By Jackie Salowitz
Tribune Recorder Leader
Most people hold the memories of their grandparents dear to their heart, they have stories to pass down through the generations, but many don’t have the opportunity to actually take those memories and make them into something that can be touched and given to other family members to cherish.
Denise Koch, the granddaughter of the late Nelson and Mary Stolicker of Deckerville, has done just that, creating bronze sculptures of the memories she cherished of her grandparents. Now, those sculptures are in the homes of her mother Minnie, Uncle Harold and Aunt Ruthie, and various cousins.
The daughter of Ray Gillem and Minnie Stolicker Gillem (divorced), Denise and her husband, Scrooge, moved from Michigan in 1996 to Wyoming, where she found a job at a bronze art foundry. Always artistic (quite possibly inheriting the gene from her grandpa), Denise had taken a lot of art classes through the years – drawing, painting and sculpting.
She said, “I learned the trade of re-touching wax castings to be used in the lost wax process of creating bronze sculptures. As a wax chaser, you learn to mimic another artist’s textures and eventually I started to create my own pieces of art. I supervised the wax department for over 20 years – 5-12 people, performing six different parts of production in that area. (I was also the Production Manager and scheduled the production for the entire foundry). We worked on small, table top sculptures to monumental works many times life size. I worked on the Dundee Michigan Cabela’s fighting grizzly bears by sculptor Mike Hamby (retired football player from the Buffalo Bills) and many other famous works across the US and beyond. Many are on public display in well-known galleries, museums and in private collections.” She retired from the foundry in 2020.
Reminscing of her grandparents, Denise said, “Nelson Stolicker Sr. was a good man. He was hardworking, honest, intelligent, artistic, kind and full of good humor. He also chose an amazingly strong woman to accompany him through life, Mary Dawson Stolicker.”
Denise reminisced of a story about her Uncle Herald. She said, “Uncle Harold scared the tar out of Grandma when he was a toddler. She was feeding her chickens and looked around for Harold and was horrified to see him in with the team, his arms wrapped around Barney’s powerful hind leg. The gentle giants both stood completely still until she collected the little guy and got him safely away from their big feet.”
Nelson and Mary milked approximately 60 cows when they lived on Hunt Road, which was where their horses, King and Barney did their work. The couple moved to Rangeline Road in the late 1950’s, when their son, Harold was a junior in school.
Denise’s Uncle Harold said, “Denise is very talented, a real artist. She thought a lot of her grandparents. She was always drawing.”
Harold also said that his dad was also very talented, he could draw and carve, he even would take a bar of soap and make carvings out of them.
Denise said that many years ago she sculpted a portrait of her grandfather, reuniting him with his beloved team of Percheron geldings. Her creation was cast in bronze. Denise said, “We gifted this to him on his birthday. A day of wonderful memories. I titled the sculpture “Labor of Love”, a nod to the love he had for his team and working the land and my own work in creating a portrait of someone I held so dearly.”
Denise followed that sculpture with a smaller version of her grandpa standing between the two horses (King and Barney),commissioned by her Uncle Nels and Aunt Phyllis.
Then she created three other figures of her grandpa, titled ‘Out Standing in His Field’, where he was resting his arm on a fence post. Her Uncle Harold and Aunt Ruthie have that one with him holding a rock. Her mother Minnie has a version of him standing, looking over his crops and cousin Terri has one with him holding a Deckerville Eagles ballcap. Cousin Dave Stolicker commissioned one of his grandpa with his shotgun and a buck deer (the biggest one he never shot), and the late the late Rodney Stolicker, one of his grandpa holding his .22 with a brace of rooster pheasants titled ‘The Straight Shooter’.
If you ever make a trip to Lander, WY and him standing, looking over his crops and cousin Terri has one with him holding a Deckerville Eagles ballcap. Cousin Dave Stolicker commissioned one of his grandpa with his shotgun and a buck deer (the biggest one he never shot), and the late Rodney Stolicker, one of his grandpa holding his .22 with a brace of rooster pheasants titled ‘The Straight Shooter’.
If you ever make a trip to Lander, WY and travel on Main Street, Denise’s first public bronze monument is installed there. Named “Western Heritage”, it depicts a life-sized longhorn steer. She said, “I think my grandparents might have preferred a lovely Holstein cow, but perhaps they would have approved of this free spirited fellow.”