The curious case of the flying elk | VailDaily.com

The curious case of the flying elk

The Battle Mountain Trading Post in Minturn is now home to a 550-pound bronze statue of a monarch bull elk. The sculpture was placed by a crane last week.
Randy Wyrick|randy@vaildaily.com |

MINTURN — For almost four decades, Bill Reis dreamed of making an elk fly.

Last week, he did it.

The Battle Mountain Trading Post in Minturn is home to a life-size bull elk, standing majestically on the front of the building.

The bronze statue, titled “Headed for High Country,” has been part of the vision of Reis and his former partner Scott Skillman for the better part of four decades.

“He looks spectacular. It’s a dream come true,” Reis said, looking up at the monarch elk on the front of his Minturn building, three decades later.

Artist Jim Gilmore sculpted the 550-pound bronze statue.

“He had always wanted a life-size elk in front of his store,” Gilmore said. “We decided with all the remodeling, we’d go ahead with it.”

Talked himself out of selling

Reis opened the Battle Mountain Trading Post 37 years ago with a gallery in Lionshead and a store in Minturn.

The Minturn store has always been something of a “would-you-look-at-that” kind of place.

The sign right on the wall says it’s not a museum, and it’s not. It’s not a junk shop or second-hand store either, because the stuff in there is seriously wonderful. It’s mostly antiques with a flair for Americana.

There are Coca-Cola coolers, hand-tooled saddles, a player piano and other antiques … you have to see it for yourself.

A few years ago, Reis was considering selling the place. But he didn’t.

Instead, he did what he does every morning. He walked out the front door and looked up at Battle Mountain.

“It’s like church,” Reis said.

For no apparent reason he talked himself out of selling.

So he started spending money, transforming the Trading Post into a showcase for unique antiques and art.

Reis and Skillman had always intended to hang an elk on the front of the building when they remodeled.

Reis said he wasn’t sure the building would hold a bronze statue that size.

“I thought I’d have to go with fiberglass,” he said.

He contacted Gilmore, then hired engineer and local welder Tim Perkins to figure it out. They came up with a platform system that would hold 750 pounds forever.

Artist and patron

The life-size sculpture is a monarch bull elk — eight points per side of its rack — and it’s posed so it looks like it’s living up to its name, and headed for the High Country.

Gilmore met Reis when Reis had that gallery in Lionshead and the Minturn store. That was about 27 years ago.

Gilmore has been sculpting for almost 30 years and has been working with Reis for most of that time.

“I was just a ranch kid and loaded up some bronzes and went to places I thought they’d sell,” Gilmore said.

He grew up on a ranch near Alamosa. His dad passed away when he was a kid and he ran the ranch. His parents didn’t have much original art around the house, but Gilmore had an artistic itch that had to be scratched.

He started out tooling leather and making saddles. He moved to drawing, painting, sculpture and finally into bronze.

“I got into some good galleries like Bill’s and I’m still at it,” Gilmore said. “Bear, elk, sheep … something is constantly going on.”

He still has the studio on the ranch where he was born and grew up.

He’s done a couple pieces for Cabela’s, and galleries around the Central Rockies, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Jackson, Wyoming. He sculpted and hauled a moose to Maine. The list is long and impressive.

Gilmore says he loves it, plus he gets to drive his truck around the West, pulling a trailer loaded with some massive bronze sculpture.

“You get people looking, waving and taking pictures. It’s fun,” Gilmore said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.