Folks have been spotted in downtown Lexington at odd hours of the day since June.
They come at 7 o’clock on a Sunday morning or late afternoon on a Saturday, when
Main Street is spiffing up for the night crowd. There are senior citizens in walking
attire or families with kids, they all have cameras, and they all have the sole
goal of checking out a new breed of horse. This, according to David Lord, president
of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, is Horse Mania.
“The horses are like hidden gems you find all over town,”
says Sheryl Rice, a Lexington teacher at Tates Creek High School. “You’ll be
driving around and see one you hadn’t noticed before.”
Designated an official project of the 2000 Lexington Kentucky
Millennium Celebration, Horse Mania has reinforced the city’s reputation as
the world’s thoroughbred capital by installing equine likenesses. There are
79, to be exact, in a slew of different colors, and all with fiberglass bases—in
downtown locations from the courthouse steps and fountains of Triangle Park
to perimeter auto dealership lots and even Blue Grass Airport.
Installed in late June, the horses themselves run an eclectic
design gamut ranging from conservative to anything but. “We do have a few whimsical
horses,” explains Steve Grossman, chairman of the Horse Mania Steering Committee,
“but by and large, most of the artwork is more of a serious nature.”
For example, “People’s Delight” sports a colorful yet traditional
coat of an all-Kentucky weave—the state bird, flower, and animal (cardinal,
goldenrod, and squirrel) intertwined with Kentucky Derby and racing scenes—realistically
rendered by Cincinnati’s Velma Morris. One of four artworks anchoring Triangle
Park, across from Lexington’s Civic Center, “Galloping Gourmet” stands rife
with luscious fruits and vegetables richly painted by Nancy Nardiello. And Nuchi
Cain’s “Horse & Garden” is a virtual equine Discovery Channel, a sleek black
steed live with gorgeous flora and fauna, all of near-photographic quality,
down to zebra-design blinkers and a tiny mouse in racing silks weighing in on
Modeled after Chicago’s Cows on Parade, where 268 bovine
statues grazed in every corner of the Windy City, the horses were a natural
for this horse-crazy town. But unlike the cows, which were produced as a turn-key
project by a Swiss company, Lexington’s animals were birthed by the Lexington
Arts and Cultural Council (LACC) as both an opportunity for a renaissance of
public art and a tourist attraction.
“We wanted people to see what public art can do for downtown,”
says Dee Fizdale, executive director of LACC, “and given how people have responded
to these art horses, it’s very clear that they will come out to see art and
enjoy downtown in a totally new way.”
“Pablo,” a contemporary creation by Picasso-inspired Lucinda
Alston Chapman, certainly adds novelty to the metro area, as does “Mo,” a vivid
mosaic by collage artist Carleton Wing. And color-splashed “Sweet Pea” stands
guard on Main Street by the “Flying Horse of Gansu,” a stylized Oriental bronze
presented to the city of Lexington last year by the people of China.
“There’s been such a reaction locally of ownership,” says
Lord. “Businesses were convinced very quickly that it was a neat idea, so the
community bought into the program in a big way. This wasn’t a tourism project
or a city project. It was a community project.”
Two unusual and highly popular designs are “Mirrored Horse,”
whose coat of mirror shards reflects both sunlight and scenery in front of the
Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, and “Stonewall,” crafted by 1996 world
champion sand sculptor Damon Farmer, which looks like a horse-shaped old Kentucky
To generate statues, LACC held a competition that required
each prospective artist to submit a design, five slides of previous work, and
a resume. From 3,200 submission forms sent out, 688 designs were received for
review by a jurying committee of two art gallery owners, two arts professors,
and one working artist. Sponsors paid $3,700—$1,200 for a frame and $2,500 for
an artist to fashion it.
After November 15, the horses will travel from their temporary
summer and fall locales to Keeneland’s big stone Keene Barn, where they’ll be
on display November 29 and 30.
Come December 2 the steeds of Horse Mania will go under
the gavel at a sale to be conducted using the stately establishment’s own well-versed
auctioneers and bid spotters.
The goal of LACC is to raise a million dollars, or an average
of $12,600 per equine. Plans are to return 5 percent of the sale price to the
arts organization itself, with half the remaining amount targeted to a fund
for public art, and the rest to a nonprofit agency or charity of the sponsor’s
Seats for the auction will be presold. A $75 ticket includes
dinner, drinks, a pavilion seat, bid paddle, and sales catalog. For $50 you
can get everything but an inside area seat, though you can bid from anywhere
in the pavilion. Proxy bids are available for those unable to attend. Prospective
buyers may contact LACC at (859) 255-2951.
The stars of Horse Mania will garner further exposure in
an 80-page coffee-table book available prior to the sale.
“We’ll miss them when they’re gone. I hope they do it again,”
says Sheryl Rice.”