Joe Ferrell Hobbs stood in the middle of P Street last night and looked for rodeo riders. There wasn't one in sight. And he had one in mind -- his friend, Kansas sculptor and professional rodeo rider Bob Coore.

"I know he's here in town," said Hobbs, looking around at the masses of sculptors and others who roamed the P Street block party, "and I gotta find him."

Hobbs, who lives in Okla., has 10 live quarterhorses ready for his performing sculpture Satruday at 3:30 by the Lincoln Memorial, and he needs to round up some riders pretty quickly.

He knew Coore would be in town because every other sculptor worth his clay/sand/acrylic/steel multimedia is here for the 11th International Sculpture Conference being held this week.

"We're gonna do a land run," said Hobbs, standing on P Street near 21st. "It's a variation of the old land run where you went out and claimed land. I'm desparately looking for profesional rodeo riders."

Hobbs sported a straw cowboy hat and two fat gold rings in the shape of the state of Texas -- one filled in with tiny diamonds. He looked down and grinned. "I don't want anyone to not know where I'm from."

To celebrate all this sculpture and the artists who do it, the galleries in town showing sculpture for the event -- both inside and outside on the street -- threw a block party last night. The half dozen or more galleries clustered on P Street opened their doors and closed off the block -- with the help of D.C. police and some ribbon-decked rope -- between 20th and 21st streets, NW. Other galleries throughout the city showing sculpture had openings as well.

A few hundred people showed up. And in the middle of P Street and 21st was a giant, 16-foot-long dragonfly -- made of acrylic wings and a flocked velveeen body, by Bob Wade. (You may remember his giant cowboy boots which sat outside the Washington Project for the Arts for several months. They now reside in a San Antonio shopping center.)

"It's a portable dragonfly touring the world," said Wade, who wore scuffed cowboy boots and a visored cap that read "J.R. Ewing Oil Co., Dallas." ("I could get $50 for one of these anywhere," said Wade.) John Widgren, Hobb's assistant, and Craig Shankles and Matthew Feder -- both into steel sculpture -- stopped to admire Wade's insect. "It's a beautiful critter," said Wade proudly about his piece, which disassembles in minutes and fits in his van. "Very intelligent. Eats flies. Call it Giant Texas Dragonfly -- Dragonfly, Texana Gigantis."

Later, sculptor Janos Enyedi took one look, made an unidentifiable sound and gave it a thumbs down sign. His friend, painter Dennis O'Neill grinned. "Isn't that from "The attack of the Killer Tomatoes'?"

Enyedi, who has an exhibit in the sculpture displayed in a Commerce Department courtyard, had gone to a Georgetown cafe Wednesday night with a New York friend here for the conference. In walked the famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who promptly sat down and joined them for some iced tea and conversation. "It was really strange," said Enyedi. "There're all these famous people walking around, some just sitting in the audience at these panels.It's unbelievable."

Last night, artists browsed through the block and found friends they had seen in the audience at the conference panels earlier. Neighborhood residents investigated the sights. Sculptors, tired from the day's marathon lectures and panels, broke open cans of beer and began to party. Artist Edward Kienholz was throwing a party at the Golden Palace afterward, the word spread. Everyone invited.

"Too much talk," said sculptor Irving Sabo, of Greens Farms, Conn., of the converence. He headed off in search of some Joseph Beuys sculpture. ("He's a nontraditional German arist. He works in honey, tallow, blood.")

Joan Mondale, a longtime art patron and art historian, dropped in. Stephen Weil, director of the Hirshhorn Museum, showed up. Attorney Ira Lowe was there with his full beard and his wide-brimmed hat. Earlier in the day he was on a panel titled "Artists' Rights: Sculpture and the Law." He and his New York law partner are now representing all of the Picasso children and grandchildren except one whom the rest are taking to court.

"I look at all this and wish I had some monumental, outdoor sculpture to exhibit," said sculptor Joan Danziger wistfully.She laughed. "I've just got big penguins and little penguins." The other night, she said, she dreamed that her penguins on display at the Washington Project for the Arts got up and walked out the door.

"The worst experience of my life was driving on American turnpikes," said Canadian sculptor Claude Roussel, who drove here. "But this was worth it." c