Grant Speed: Mormon Sculptor
Ulysses Grant Speed was an award-winning Western sculptor.
Speed was born on January 6, 1930, in San Angelo, Texas. His youthful interests were riding and roping and he worked in the summers as a cowboy on his uncle’s ranch. He also worked on other ranches and became an accomplished horse breaker.
After he graduated from high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force for two years and was an airplane mechanic during the Korean War. He served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Brigham Young University, taught elementary school, and worked as a cowhand and rodeo rider. Through the years he developed a desire to study Western art. His first sculpture was completed with his daughter’s school clay, and only his wife, Sue, knew about it. His first serious sculpture was completed as part of a BYU art class. He had it cast and gave the first to his wife. The other nine sold rapidly. His immediate success encouraged him to continue, and he taught school, then sculpted until two or three in the morning. After about eight years of this intensity, he quit teaching in order to devote full time to sculpting. In 1965 he joined The Cowboy Artists of America and served several times as the group’s president.
Speed cast some of his work at a foundry in Springville, Utah. He later set up his own foundry in Lindon, Utah, with the help of his assistant, John Bascom, a son of cowboy artist and sculptor Earl Bascom. While at BYU, Speed met Earl Bascom, who was studying at BYU at the time. Bascom had known some of Speed’s family. Speed used Bascom as a model on horseback or in a saddle for some of his sculptures.
His sculpture of Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight is permanently house in the Square House Museum in Panhandle, Texas; his bronze sculpture “Night Ridin’” is in the permanent art collection in the historic district of St. George, Utah; and his sculpture of musician Buddy Holly is displayed at the Walk of Fame in Lubbock, Texas.
Speed has exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum and the Whitney Gallery of Western Art in Cody, Wyoming. He won numerous awards, including the Cowboy Artists of America Annual Gold Medal for Sculpture and the Phoenix Art Museum Purchase Award. His work is in the Whitney Gallery of Western Art and the Diamond M. Museum collections. He won the Prix de West Purchase Award at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame’s “22nd Annual National Academy of Western Art Exhibition” for his sculpture “Ridin’ a Rank One,” and was added to the hall’s permanent collection.
He once said, “I don’t remember a time when art, horses, or ranching was not a part of my life. Being able to make a living using my experience with all of these is a real reward.”