VAIL VALLEY, Colorado - The phone hasn't stopped ringing at the Horton home in Edwards. People from around the world - Costa Rica, Brazil, Romania and Bermuda - have been calling to express their sadness - and share happy stories, too.
Sculptor Walter Horton, 61, passed away in his Lake Creek home early Sunday morning. Besides his family - sons Ben, 26, and Jesse, 30, and his wife Peggy - Horton's wide cadre of friends and associates are in mourning as well. Walt, as he was widely known, touched people around the world. He's remembered as a man who loved Christianity, his family and making people smile.
"We've gotten letters and phone calls from all over the place and I'm still learning the impact he had on this world," Ben Horton said. "He loved helping people. He was eccentric, and I think that eccentricity made him unrestricted in his love for people. If he cared for someone, he just did and he didn't hold back."
Jesse, Walt's oldest son, agreed.
"There are people showing up at our door and I had no idea some of the things he'd done," Jesse said. "He wasn't out for recognition - it was amazing how he put other people first."
Walt is perhaps best known for his large-scale bronze sculptures of animals and children, many of which can be seen in Beaver Creek, as well as in eight galleries nationwide and in private collections around the world.
"Walt had a distinctive style that was extremely magnetic to people," said Micah Olson, Walt's business manager and longtime friend.
Just four months ago, one of Walt's longtime dreams came to fruition. He opened a working gallery in Beaver Creek, called Walt Horton Fine Art. He spent nearly every day at the gallery, working on sculptures while curious passers-by watched. Many of those folks ended up becoming fans, if not friends.
"He is such a personable and likable fellow," Michael Paderewski told the Vail Daily for a story in December. Paderewski manages Walt's gallery. "His collectors, well I've never seen anything like it. He just has this incredible following of people always adding to their collections."
Walt worked as a cartoonist in Bermuda for 13 years before moving to the United States to sculpt. He talked to the Vail Daily in December about that transition.
"Every cartoonist I've ever known has died young," Walt said. "As much as I enjoyed it, I wanted to spend more time with my family and bronze gave me that door."
During the same interview, Horton talked lovingly about his family.
"My wonderful bride of 39 years, Peggy, is the wind beneath my wings," he said. "The problem is everyone thinks she's my daughter. I have two sons that taught me everything I know about enjoying life."
Walt's children were his favorite creations of all, Olson said.
"When I brought my son to work for the first time, he told me it was a much better job than he could ever do with clay, and that's how he felt about all kids - especially his own."
Walt's background as a cartoonist makes sense when looking at his sculptures, which exude a sense of whimsy.
"His animals have a cartoon-like innocence to them," Olson said. "They're almost like 3D caricatures of animals and children. He really had a knack for capturing children being children, and he was better than anyone at sculpting them. He was very well known for that."
Though he'd only been sculpting for the past 16 years, Walt had earned considerable recognition in the art world. His most popular sculpture, and the one for which he is well known, is called "Repentance."
The sculpture of a small Indian boy and large grizzly bear sits in Beaver Creek Plaza, directly across from Blue Moose Pizza. In the scene, the boy is apologizing to the bear for shooting him in the hind quarters with an arrow.
Since late last summer, Walt worked on a sculpture called "African Repentance." He wanted to sculpt different versions of Repentance from around the world. The sculpture is of an elephant with a spear in its rear flank and a little African boy holding a shield and looking repentant. The elephant's trunk is lightly wrapped partly around the young child.
Walt's sons and sculptor Lincoln Fox, one of the artist's closest friends, will put the finishing touches on Walt's remaining pre-cast sculptures before they're cast in bronze and sent out to the world as his final piece.
In the past 10 years, Walt took up surfing, started hiking and recently was learning to ice skate. Walt's passion, which he talked about with the Vail Daily in December, was studying and teaching Biblical hermeneutics, or the science of interpreting ink documents. He enjoyed showing people his large collection of ancient Bible manuscripts and sharing the things he'd learned through his research.
Walt was fond of traveling, especially with his sons. He recently visited an uninhabited island on the gulf of Mexico with Ben, who was working on a project with the International League of Conservation Photographers.
"He was a huge help," Ben remembered. "He'd help me carry 100-pound boxes in the sand on a hot desert island. He had an adventurous spirit and I can see where my brother and I get it.
"The reason I invited him on that trip is because I didn't know how much longer I'd be able to do those sorts of things with him," Ben said. "I didn't think it would happen this suddenly, but I'm glad we got to do it."
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.