Sam Taylor, the Magician of Metal

by David Tesitor

    Sam Taylor was a true visionary with a diverse talent. He had an eye for the obscure, a penchant to uncover the beauty in any object, and an understanding of the essence of  whatever material he worked with.  Born in Canon City, CO on Sept. 22, 1940, Sam was raised in Walsenburg and had fond memories of growing up in a small community.  Every piece of his art comes with a story, his own recollection of the people he has met and the places he has been.

    Taylor’s gift encompassed many styles:  painting on canvas and paper, large metal sculptures, digital images and photogravures.  He practiced his talents for over forty years, from right after he came home from the Marine Corps to the time of his death  last month.  His first studio was on Main Street in Walsenburg and was where he turned pottery and began to paint on canvas.  His final studio was at his home in Hoehne, where Sam and his wife, Connie, had returned after spending 30 years in New Mexico.

    Taylor once said he considered a work of art successful if it fit Ezra Pound’s definition of the word ’image’- the thing which within a given context of time, evokes a spiritual, emotional or intellectual response.  His art drew your attention to what he believed was the beauty of the ordinary that we take for granted and let slip past us unacknowledged.

    His work is all around, both here and abroad.  All you need to do is go to Heritage Park to witness one of his more emotional pieces, “When Your Number’s Up.”  The sculpture depicts the numbered tags miners wore when they went into the mines.  At day’s end, each miner would hang his tag on the board to show that he had returned safely.  Taylor’s sculpture is of a tag board, with one token missing, indicating the death of that miner underground.  For those who lost miners to accidents, cave-ins or methane gas, it is a somber reminder of the dangers of the southern Colorado coal fields.   A mock-up prototype sits on his property among other larger sculptures.  

    Another famous work was of the Spanish Peaks. It hung proudly in the lobby of the First National Bank for over twenty years.  After the bank remodeled, the picture ultimately found its way into the hands of a private collector.

    Taylor’s work has been shown throughout the United States, Central America and Europe.  He is represented in several private collections in Germany, France, Bulgaria and Japan.  His pieces hang in the Whitney Museum, the Getty Oil Company, the Rocky Mountain Oil Company and Wichita State University among others.    

    One of Taylor’s early childhood jobs was working for the Corsentino Dairy.  When he broke a hitch on the hay rake, John Corsentino showed him how to light a torch and how to bend the metal to fix the machinery.  So began  one of the styles he would embrace in his many art forms.  When I was invited to walk around his property, Connie showed me the extent of his collection of twisted and sculpted transformed metal.  According to Connie, Sam would spend days forming a single piece.  He learned basically on his own and some of his earliest creations were trial and error.  Those were her favorites.

    As Sam grew older and his vision of the perfect art form continued to evolve, his interests turned to digital imaging and photogravures, a lengthy process which converts digital photographs into negatives, then to plates where the inks are applied.  He then pressed the plate on specially treated paper  to create the print.  His Bone Collection series and Churches of New Mexico series were  recognized as some of his finest works.     

    It was a sobering moment when Connie showed me the last pieces he did before he died.  One work brought tears to my eyes as it seemed Sam and I had a connection.  The print was of the Ludlow  Bakery, a weather-beaten shambles of a building now.  This was his last print.  In an uncharacteristic stroke of his pencil, he wrote  the story directly on the print, Where Grandpa Nicholas brought home the bread- Ludlow strike 1912.   Nick was my grandfather too. 

    In a final farewell, perhaps sensing his time on earth was ending, he painted three separate box boards with individual crosses using his favorite golden hues.  One painting stood out, a single cross which faded into a sea of whiteness.

    Sam died peacefully a week later at his home, in his chair, in the middle of  telling another story to his family.