Often times talented educators earn recognition in fields other than education, and such is the case with (Ulysses) Grant Speed, an elementrary school teacher who also happens to be an acclaimed artist of western sculptures.
Grant was born January 6, 1930, in San Angelo, Texas. He spent his youth riding and roping, and as a teenager worked as a cowboy on his uncle’s ranch. He eventually became adept at breaking horses, and also became a rodeo contestant, competing in the bareback and bull-riding events, until a leg injury brought this activity to a halt.
In 1948, while the Korean War was in full swing, eighteen-year-old Grant enlisted in the US Air Force, serving for two years and working as an airplane mechanic. Once he was discharged, he completed a three-year mission for the Mormon church. He also married and started a family.
In 1959, Grant earned his bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. His major was animal science, but he also completed art courses and began sculpting. “Having come from conservative West Texas, I really wanted to be the world’s best cowboy,” Grant once revealed. “Yet every time I got a chance to be around any kind of western art, I couldn’t stop reading about it, looking at it, and studying it.”
Once Grant graduated from college, he accepted his first position as a teacher at an elementary school in Salt Lake City. His career as an educator spanned eight years, until he he decided to leave the profession to devote himself full-time to his art. During that period of his life, “I didn’t hardly get any sleep because I taught school all day and worked on art all night,” Grant once confessed. “I’m not talking about ’till just 12 o/clock; I’m talking about until two or three in the morning. And then I got up at 6:30 and went to teach school.”
The former educator has exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Whitney Gallery of Art in Cody, Wyoming. His bronze equestrian sculpture Night Ridin’ is displayed in the permanent art collection in the historic district of St. George, Utah, while his scupture of the legendary Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight can be found in the Square House Museum in Panhandle, Texas. The Springville Museum of Art has Grant’s equestrian sculpture Ropin’ Out the Best Ones. He also created a large-scale statue of Texas rock ‘n’ roll legend Buddy Holly for Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, and a life-size horse-and-rider piece for Texas Tech University depicting the school’s mascot, the Red Raider.
Grant’s sculptures have earned him high praise. Among his awards is the Gold Medal for Sculpture from Cowboy Artists of America and the Prix de West Award from the National Academy of Western Art, which is affiliated with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Grant Speed passed away on October 1, 2011, at the age of 81. He is interred at Lindon City Cemetery in Lindon, Utah.