UWAA Building a Better Wyoming Award: D. Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas is a living embodiment of what it means to be a Wyoming Cowboy. Born and raised in our great state, Thomas experienced the Wyoming way of life from a young age. In recognition of his work as a sculptor, Thomas has been awarded the Building a Better Wyoming Award from the UW Alumni Association.

Thomas graduated from UW in 1977 with a degree in animal science and pre-veterinary medicine. After graduating, he worked in the agricultural sector as both a loan officer and a manager of a feed and ranch supply business. In 1993, he turned to his passion for sculpture and used it as a way for telling the stories of Wyoming.

A white man in a well-fitted suit and a nice cowboy hat. He has gray hair and a short mustache.
Michael Thomas, winner of the Building a Better Wyoming Award.

“Art is something that came to me through osmosis,” Thomas says. “My mother was a fantastic wildlife oil painter, and coming home from school every day there was the smell of turpentine in the air and something wonderful on the easel. My dad was a game warden around Big Piney and Jackson, and as a young boy, we’d go on pack trips up in the Wyoming and Teton ranges. Then, in college, I found myself spending an unbelievable amount of time messing with wax and making little sculptures. I finally took the big leap when I was asked to create a sculpture to go outside of a bank in Buffalo.”

In 1994—just one year after turning his passion into a full-time career—Thomas was recognized with the Wyoming State Historical Society Award. He won the award again in 1996 and has received a number of other prestigious awards, such as the Wyoming Governor’s Art Award (1996), the Museum Purchase Award at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Western Art Show (2007, 2010), and the Wells Fargo Gold Award at the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Auction (2010).

At UW, there are two notable sculptures by Thomas. The first, “Talk About Your Cowboy,” which is along Grand Avenue on the lawn of the Alumni House, depicts a classic cowboy riding a horse, waving his hat to salute current UW students, campus visitors and alumni as they pass by.

The second piece, “Breakin’ Through,” stands tall at the south entrance of the War Memorial Stadium parking lot and depicts a Wyoming cowgirl riding a bucking horse while breaking through a brick wall. It is meant as a tribute to women of the West and their contributions to the Western way of life and the glass ceilings they shatter.

Thomas has also created other notable pieces throughout Wyoming—“Johnson County Cattle War” in Buffalo, “Good Ride Cowboy” honoring the life and work of Chris LeDoux in Kaycee, and the “Just LeDoux It” sculpture in Cheyenne that also honors LeDoux’s contributions to the state.

“In thinking about what the Building a Better Wyoming Award has meant to me, I’ve realized it’s not about what I’ve given to Wyoming but what Wyoming has given to me,” says Thomas. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t raised the way I was, working on cattle ranches at a young age, learning from the old cowboys—the salt-of-the-earth types. That’s what Wyoming has given me.”

This story was originally published in UWYO Magazine.

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