When Phimister Proctor “Sandy” Church was seven years old, his grandfather came to live with the family, and the two developed a special bond. Alexander Phimister Proctor (1860 – 1950), the renowned sculptor, told his grandson stories about the Wild West, homesteading in Colorado, and his Native friends, Jackson Sundown and Chief Little Wolf. He told Sandy about hunting, fishing, and of course about his artwork. Sandy fondly recalled running in the yard as Proctor lassoed his ankle.
As a young man, Sandy Church began to study and collect the art of his grandfather. Not just a hobby, his life’s passion was to support Proctor’s legacy. At first, Sandy set up the A. Phimister Proctor Museum in the back of his used car dealership. As the collection grew, he began thinking about how to ensure its preservation.
Sandy invited Peter H. Hassrick, who was Director of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West from 1976 – 1996 for a visit to assess the collection and advise him on scholarship and stewardship. They became fast friends, and Peter served on the Proctor Museum board for more than 20 years. They remained close comrades for the remainder of their lives, with Hassrick dying in 2019 and Church in 2022.
Together with his wife, Sally, and his daughter, Laura Proctor Ames, Sandy Church worked to preserve Proctor’s legacy and enrich public understanding of his life and art. Sandy has shared with the Center of the West both the family’s personal recollections and his scholarly knowledge gained through years of devoted research.
The Churches also shared their family’s treasures, choosing the Center as the repository for the collection they thoughtfully assembled, and setting up an endowment for preservation, research, and education.
To make Proctor’s work more broadly accessible, the Proctor Foundation sponsored an online catalog based on Peter Hassrick’s The Best of Proctor’s West publication, with biography, essays, and in-depth analysis of eleven sculptures. A work in progress, this catalog will be expanded over time to include more images and scholarship.
For nearly two decades, the Center has received generous donations from the Proctor family, the A. Phimister Proctor Museum, and the Proctor Foundation. Beginning in 2003, the Center accessioned the artist’s personal papers, his sculpture tools, and an extraordinary collection of art objects, establishing the largest Proctor collection in the country.
Throughout the years, the Center has received additional gifts from the family, including exceptional casts of Proctor’s beloved sculptures, Q Street Buffalo and Buckaroo. Visitors to the Whitney Western Art Museum’s Proctor Studio are surrounded by drawings, sculptures, and tools of the trade, including a re-creation of a turn-of-the-century bronze foundry. The Studio commemorates Proctor’s long and impressive career and showcases his models, plaster molds, processes, and finished works of art.
What makes the Proctor collection unique, in addition to its great breadth and diversity, is the family’s long-term support of its development and preservation. Like the Coe, Koerner, and Fenn families (who gave, respectively, the Remington, Koerner, and Sharp Studio Collections), Sandy and
his family, through their benevolence and passion, have preserved the legacy of an important artist and ensured that his work will be appreciated by the public.
The Church Family and Proctor Foundation have underwritten preservation projects, supported scientific and art historical research, funded fellowships and internships, and established the Proctor Collection Endowment Fund to support the long-term stewardship of the collection. Sandy’s daughter Laura worked alongside him to build the Proctor Museum and has served as an Advisory to the Whitney Western Art Museum since 2014. She continues the family tradition of supporting the arts and stewarding Proctors’ legacy through education, conservation, and philanthropy.
Sandy will be remembered for his love of family, his dedication to and passion for sharing his grandfather’s story, his generosity of spirit, his sunny disposition, and his absolute zest for life. He will be missed.