San Juan’s Michelangelo

by Buckley Jensen

How would you like to start selling your drawings in the fourth grade for a nickel and 20 years later command $65,000 for a single work of art?

If that sounds like something out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, you best believe it because Monticello now claims such an artist, Bryce Pettit, as its adopted, in residence artist.

While Bryce might wince at the comparison, he is the closest thing to that famous fellow from 16th century Italy that Monticello has ever had.

Actually Erin Frost is the reason her accomplished husband landed in Monticello. Erin is the daughter of Jeff and Denise Frost and grew up at the base of the Blues. Bryce says he likes living away from the maddening crowds and among the beauties of nature San Juan has in rich abundance. Erin has lots of relatives and having a studio in Monticello costs about one tenth what it would be in Aspen or Jackson Hole.

I met Bryce recently because I noticed a magnificent full-size bronze bull elk on Maxine Frost’s driveway. I wondered if Mrs. Frost had won the lottery, because a bronze elk of that quality runs around $ 40-45,000 the last time I checked.

I was told by the neighbors that Bryce and Erin were living in the house and that the elk in the driveway is one of Bryce’s creations. Fascinated, I paid him a visit the first week in January at his studio in Monticello. He was creating a pair of dogs a couple in Park City had commissioned him to do

In my visit with Bryce that day, he told me his family was preparing for their annual pilgrimage to Scottsdale, AZ where they stay for three months each winter. The Pettits have three children, ages 9-4. They put the two oldest in school and enjoy the weather and the hustle and bustle of Arizona in the winter.

In Scottsdale, Bryce rents a double studio in a large gallery which is home to about 100 other talented artists for the first quarter of each year.

From January through March the public can pay to observe these artisans at work. They can also buy their creations. All artists are “juried” and they must be very talented to earn the privilege of becoming part of this artistic family. It is the only gallery of its kind in the Southwest.

Marcia and I recently returned from a trip to Arizona and had the pleasure of visiting with Bryce several times in his winter workplace.

Scottsdale appreciates great art. Bryce says that because there are nearly four million people within a 75-mile radius of Scottsdale in the winter. For him, it is the single best place to sell high-end art in the lower forty eight.

During the rest of the year, Bryce attends art shows in Jackson Hole, Aspen, Sedona, Park City, Santa Fe, Telluride, and Whitefish, MT. His stays in these locations are short compared with his annual Scottsdale commitment.

“I don’t try to sell in San Juan County,” he confided,” and that is one of the reasons I like living in Monticello. It is good to have a place to go to relax and escape the whirlwind of the art shows.”

Bryce’s repertoire is mostly wild animals, which sell anywhere from $1,000 to $65,000. Each of his creations is cast for limited editions of 10-35 units, with most of them in the 20 unit range. It takes months of hard work to create a large piece out of clay. Add to that another 8 to 10 weeks for the casting process and the enormous costs associated with casting in solid bronze.

“People look at my prices and think I am loaded. What they don’t see is the time and money it takes to produce a single prototype, not to mention the marketing costs, the travel, and being away from my family in the summer. I have been through the ‘starving artist’ routine for a good part of my career. The only way one eventually becomes financially successful is to hang on by ones fingernails until you become known in the art world. That usually take the better part of a lifetime, and often does not happen until the artist is dead. A fellow named Vincent Van Gogh comes to mind,” Bryce concludes.

Bryce and Erin have been in business for ten years. He grew up in Logan and graduated from Brigham Young University in the biological sciences.

Along with his degree, he wooed and won Erin. He said he really never thought he could make a living as an artist growing up. But, with the help and encouragement of those who recognize his talent, coupled with his own love of creating beautiful things, he is delighted to make a career of it.

“I love the freedom it gives me and my family”, he says. “I strive to become better with each piece I do. That may be the reason I do relatively small limited editions of each of my creations. I subconsciously don’t want to be able to rest on my laurels. When I sell out one of the editions, I have to do another one from scratch and that keeps me sharp.”

If customers observe him at work on a project in Scottsdale and are willing to commit to buy a copy before it is cast, Bryce offers a 20 percent discount. That way, he can afford to have more than the prototype cast in the beginning and that saves money.

Bryce is a remarkable young talent. He is humble and down-to-earth. He works every day to improve his own expertise and make his next creation a little better.

I hope he decides to use Monticello as home base for a very long time.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

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