It was back in the early nineties that we first bumped into Sam Raper and his son, Sam Junior. They were out collecting bottle caps in Dimmit, and we followed them to a cluttered backyard where “Mama” showed us some of the pieces the family had made using the tops from hundreds of thousands of drink bottles. They made chairs, statues, and small buildings. The art was primitive, yet we couldn’t help but admire the Rapers’ dedication to form and space while using the simplest of materials.
Together, this family would sit for hours in the backyard of their modest home and create conversation and sculptures. They talked about everything—the weather, changes to their town, and where they did and did not find bottle caps that morning. And they had been having that same conversation and creating the same bottle cap art for years.
Like a lot of folks we meet on the backroads, the Rapers were simple people with simple desires to live their lives with purpose. They seemed to find that purpose by building with bottle caps, then giving away the pieces they created to local kids who otherwise might not be visited by Santa Claus at Christmas. What they were doing never made it into the local chamber of commerce brochure, and they were never given an award for their hard work and dedication, but Sam Raper, Sam Junior, and Mama were fine with that.
They were doing what made them happy—something they thought might bring happiness to others. And, for the Raper family, that’s what life was all about.
All three of the Rapers have passed away since we met them thirty years ago, but their bottle cap art can be seen in the Castro County Museum in Dimmitt.