The man is artist Bill Worrell ('74 M.F.A.), and the river is the Llano. It banks his Texas Hill Country studio in the small town of Art, just outside of Mason. The natural beauty of the landscape and the energy of the land and the river mirror the spiritual tone of the artist's work.
Worrell creates three-dimensional, modern interpretations of the drawings made by the primitive people of an ancient American culture who began painting in the caves of Texas and the Southwest around 3500 B.C.
"The connection between myself – and all of modern humanity – and these ancients is a beautiful mystery that can't be solved, but can be explored," Worrell says. "My work is an exercise in exploring that spiritual connection." It's a connection that resonates. Since 1986, Worrell has earned considerable acclaim creating and selling his shaman art interpretations across the country and around the world.
It has led him to friendships with people from all walks of life. And it has provided opportunities he never could have imagined. But then, as Worrell says, that's the way it is with fate and blessings in disguise. In fact, he discovered the content for his art – that would lead him on a journey more joyous than his wildest dreams – during one of the most violent storms he's ever encountered.
In 1979, Worrell set out on a canoe trip down the lower 66 miles of the Pecos River to do a magazine photo essay. Another experienced canoeist was supposed to accompany him and two novices on the trip. At the last minute, the other experienced river man couldn't make it, leaving Worrell no other choice but to put the two new canoeists together and handle his boat with all the supplies alone. "We spent six days on that river and only twice did we see other people," he says. "But the hardest part of that trip was surviving the fiercest electrical storms and heavy rain this Texas boy has ever seen."
When the skies opened up, the small group pulled ashore to wait. They sought shelter in a cave along the river.
"There were all kinds of pictographs on the walls of that cave, and I remember thinking, ‘The Indians have been here,'" he says. "I had no idea what I was looking at, but I immediately connected to their beauty. "When we got off that river, those images were still in my head and I felt this need to make them my own, explore them and try to understand them and their creators."
For seven years, Worrell researched the ancient people who lived along the Pecos and perfected the shapes and figures he would use for his interpretations of the shamans drawn on the cave walls. His sculptures are designed in wax and cast in limited edition bronzes. After the casting is extracted, Worrell creates dramatic contrasts on the bronzes by applying patinas to some areas and polishing others. The sculptures range in size from small enough to be worn as jewelry to more that 17 feet tall, as is the case with the bronze "The Maker Of Peace," which was commissioned to stand guard at the ancient Fate Bell rock shelter at Seminole Canyon State Historical Park west of Del Rio.
The works of Worrell, who was introduced to the world of gallery representation nearly 20 years ago, can now be found in galleries across the nation. He presents five one man shows of new work each year and runs his Shaman Arts business with his sister, B.J. Worrell Del Monte, out of the studio in the Hill Country and a studio in Santa Fe, NM but Worrell says the first big break he had was not when his work was accepted by a gallery – rather, it came in his graduate studio at North Texas.
"I remember being so poor as a student that I didn't have two dimes and a nickel to make a quarter," he says. "And to save money I'd buy cheap paints and dilute them to get them to go farther. But I could never get exactly what was in my head out, so I was making just really horrible stuff and I knew it." "One afternoon Professor Wilfred ‘Flip' Higgins came in my studio to look at my art, and he didn't say a word, but I could tell by the look on his face he was disappointed. And that look set me free. I decided no matter the cost – real or personal – I was going to paint from my heart and soul and make sure I loved every piece I created."
The next time Higgins came to Worrell's studio, he invited his student to attend an opening at the Dallas Museum of Art. "Higgins saw that I had lost my fear and gained confidence about what I was doing, and a lot of creative expression centers around having self confidence," Worrell says.
Today, Worrell's work continues to energize his creative spirit, which is as Texan as his work boots. And the outlet for his creativity now is more than visual – it's verbal and musical. A quick to smile cowboy with a deep streak for wit, Worrell finds joy in the everyday, and he expresses that joy in writing poetry and music. Never without one of his guitars nearby or music in his head, Worrell is just as prone to break into song during a conversations as he is to tell a fascinating story.
And dinner at Keller's Roadside Store, the small restaurant at the end of the dirt road leading to Worrell's studio, often becomes an impromptu singing session. "I'm at the stage in my life now where I'm interested in improving my social calendar and enjoying every minute I have, so I sing when I want to and I write when the muse strikes and I make art as I always have."
His favorite time of day – the madrugada, the hours before dawn – inspired him to write one of his favorite songs. "It's a song about the rarely explored topic of love," he says with a slow growing grin. "I like to write music about uncommon subjects."
En la madrugada, full moon above, on the sands in the river we danced until dawn. En la madrugada, Texas deep in our blood, siempre amor dulce, forever live this night of sweet love….
In addition to the music that fills his life, Worrell has written two books of prose. They explore his thoughts about his work and the mysteries of life. He is currently working on a third book that will discuss his experience in the creative and business world of fine art. But whether he's writing in the notebook that never leaves his side, picking the guitar that's always in the back of his truck, or shaping wax to pay homage to the human spirit, Worrell is always smiling.
And he's always thankful for the song of the birds, the lullaby of the river and the beauty of the stars in the Texas night sky.