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El Jebel blacksmith takes the bull-elk by the horns

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El Jebel is a unique place, and now it’s going to get a unique look.

Blacksmith Vaughn Shafer is making an immense bull-elk skull with 8-foot horns out of scrap metal collected through various projects in his workshop. The El Jebel artist is putting the final touches on his creation today.

Friday it will be welded into place as part of a community sign, also created by Shafer, in front of the El Jebel Plaza along Highway 82. The plaza is the commercial building that includes the Bella Mia, Sushi Ya Go-Go and Atlas Pizza restaurants and a variety of other businesses.



Shafer said the project came along almost by accident. He was working last summer on an equally immense metal buffalo skull for the Buffalo Chip, a legendary campground and concert venue that plays a central role in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally each summer.

The unusual piece of art captured the attention of Noel Crawford, a member of the family that founded El Jebel and owns many of the commercial and residential areas there, when he visited Shafer’s workshop. The men explored some possibilities for a similar project appropriate for El Jebel, and Shafer was commissioned to create the elk skull.



“The Crawfords have got a big heart toward artists,” Shafer said.

Several of his neighbors are fellow artists and tenants who rent from the Crawfords. Their workshops and studios are in a ramshackle collection of buildings in the heart of the El Jebel between the plaza and the bowling alley.

Crawford, who has an elk farm, supplied Shafer with the skull of a huge trophy elk that was raised on the ranch and died some time ago. The eight-point buck served as the model for Shafer’s creation. The dimensions of the metal skull are based off the real skull’s size and shape. However, creating the art isn’t as easy as simply re-creating the model. The blacksmith encountered various challenges while shaping his piece.

“You’ve got to get your metal hot and just start working with it,” he said.

Shafer is no stranger to unusual projects as the owner of Bare Bonz Choppers/Iron Arts and Interiors. He and friends collaborated on a custom chopper that featured the faux skull and bones of a saber-toothed tiger as part of the bike’s frame. The motorcycle was a hit in the 2008 custom-bike competition at Sturgis.

On this latest project, Shafer spent about 2 1/2 weeks crafting each elk horn and another few weeks on the skull, complete with hollow eye sockets, a nose hole and top jaw. The skull alone is about 40 inches long. The horns are hollow to keep the piece at a workable weight of about 250 pounds.

The work will be hoisted into place at about 2 p.m. Friday, then welded onto a permanent home on a post anchoring the existing El Jebel sign. Shafer promised the finished sign will help El Jebel stand out.

“It’s going to set a precedent for all the towns in the valley,” he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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