Western sculptor Grant Speed's easy nature betrays the harried mood often found in his subjects - cowboys caught in an ornery mess.

From kneaded lumps of clay, Speed carves the occasional dire lot of both horse and rider. Be it a rain-soaked cowpuncher rustling up mavericks or wranglers breaking a spirited bronc, art aficionados are drawn to his fleeting images of toil on the range."I enjoy finding those desperate moments in a cowboy's life," said the 64-year-old Lindon native. "These men will likely make it out of their jam in one piece - but for a minute they're stuck in one heck of a storm."

Speed's bronzes, inspired from the cowboy life from which he hails, has received national acclaim. He recently captured 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."

Selected from more than 140 Western pieces, Speed's work was added to the museum's permanent collection in the hall's prestigious Prix de West collection.

The self-depreciating Speed recalls being "completely shocked but very happy" after winning the award in June.

NCHF officials were not as reserved.

"Grant Speed's `Ridin' a Rank One' perfectly fits the criteria we were looking for in a piece of art crafted to represent the West," said NCHF spokeswoman Dana Sullivant. "His sculpture compliments our museum's valuable collection."

While researching his subjects, Speed needs only reminisce about his own Texas upbringing. The former rodeo bronc rider developed a love and understanding of range life and roans as a child on his uncle's San Angelo ranch.

"Uncle Boone had a spread near the old Pecos River, it was tough country that demanded tough horses," he said. "I watched my uncle work with a lot of `outlaw' horses, and he taught me to figure out what they were thinking. This experience has helped me out immensely in my art work."

Although he'd always dabbled with drawing and molding, Speed didn't seriously consider an art career until 1964 when he learned of the Cowboy Artists of America, a fraternity of painters and sculptors regarded by many as "masters" of the Western genre.

"The folks in that group, artists such as Joe Beeler and Joe Hampton, were an inspiration to me," he said.

Speed's talents afforded him immediate acceptance into the CAA. He soon quit his job teaching school to sculpt full time.

"I don't remember a time when art, horses or ranching was not a part of my life," he said. "Being able to make a living using my experience with all of these is a real reward."