The Horse of Whitehorse
In August 2009 there was an art competition for the city of Whitehorse’s new Public Safety Building. It was not themed specifically towards public safety and so I put in the proposal for “The Whitehorse Horse”. I had been very interested in trying my hand out at large metal sculpture and felt that this was the time to give it a shot.
My neighbour and friend Roger Poole, a long time journeyman welder, agreed to help me with this project as well as the one for the sign for Carcross that I was also submitting for almost at the same time. The idea behind the “horse” was that it was to be created from donations from all Yukoners, not just Whitehorse residents. As Whitehorse is the capital and distribution centre to the whole Yukon every Yukoner passes through, shops, or stays in Whitehorse and is very familiar with the city. All Yukoners have many memories tied up in Whitehorse.
There are memories also stored in the metal objects that were donated. Some came with stories, but most didn’t. What I found appealing about the idea of the sculpture being made up of donated metal was that it became a community project engaging and representing people regardless of their background, age, or culture. It is a public art piece made possible by the public. Once I had been awarded the commission, I found people in every community who would accept donations and put up a poster that I sent soliciting donations. The process was very slow to begin with and I was quite concerned.
What’s Up magazine took hold of the idea and in every weekly publication they put in a column where people could donate and also would publish any pictures and stories of donated metal as they came in. Darrell Hookey, the editor at the time wrote up a fabulous story and donated his beloved slinky to the recycling centre in Whitehorse, one of the depots. Unfortunately, this is the only donation that I am aware of that did not get on the horse as it was lost there somewhere and even after repeated visits, still nothing surfaced. It makes me wonder if there will be others that will tell me that they dropped off something there that did not get on the horse.
However Darrell and the magazine were a tremendous help. A slow trickle began. The Whitehorse Star also did a couple of articles for me, thank you very much, and the CBC radio had me on a few times. Thank you Sandy Coleman. Sandy with the CBC even recorded an interview with me with Sarah McCullough’s French immersion kindergarten class in Whitehorse Elementary School, who had made it a class project to collect metal for the horse representing them and their families. That was a cute interview. I also approached the other radio stations and the Yukon News. Without the medias help it would not have worked.
The idea started to get around gradually and I took every opportunity to share and solicit donations however I could. In the beginning of the summer, I had a BBQ for my neighbours to give them a nudge and an opportunity to donate something.
At this BBQ they asked how it was going with donations and I told them how I was in real need of cable to do the tail and mane, and had yet to get this donated. John Upham, one of my neighbours, told me he had seen some lying in the bush very close to where we lived and that I could probably use some of it. I found the Yukon Electric cable and phoned them to see if they would like to donate to the cause. They were very surprised because they usually clean up their sites, but agreed that I could use as much as I liked and then they would go and clean up the rest.
So Jeanette Sudsbear (Rogers wife) and I went out one very hot summer day and dragged and cut a good number of lengths of the cable, loaded it up in her truck and took it back to their place where we were making the sculpture. So by the end of July, I did have enough donations to do the sculpture and over 200 people had donated and were now represented in this project. We were ready to start.
By this time we had finished the “Caribou” and so were a little more used to each other and the process that was involved in creating a metal sculpture. I
remember having all the metal donations laid out all over Rogers yard, and him looking it over. When he said, “we can do this, ” I felt such a surge of gratitude that he was the one I was working with, I cannot tell you. What a great attitude! At that point it could easily have been seen as overwhelming. But as with anything, taken in small steps, you will get there.
And so it was, small step after small step it started to take shape. Many times work needed to be revised, but gradually we were making progress. Every night I would take pictures of the days work and analyze it to see if it was to my liking, right proportions and so on. I found by seeing it on the computer instead of close up I would often get a better perspective of what was going on and know where to proceed the next day.
Often there were times when I felt there were little Divine helps and inspirations along the way, much like the appearance of the cable so very needed. I think that perhaps this is common in the process of creating. I felt that it occurred quite often when we were working on the horse. One of these times was the creation of the horses head.
I wanted certain parts of the horse to be more detailed and in this way to give more definition to the whole. The head was one of these. We took quite a bit of time on the head for this reason. We decided to do it separately and then put it on afterwards. This saved us from doing detailed work at an awkward height.
As it was taking shape, Roger told me that he could fill in the welds and buff it up so that it would look solid and be shiny. Oh……my!!! Well, please do! What resulted was something I don’t think either of us were quite expecting. The horse just took on it’s own face and personality. When it went on the horse, well that was when I think it became bigger than both of us. At least that’s the way it felt. It seemed to be taking on a life of it’s own and we were just helping it out.
The first attempt at the mane was a disaster! For awhile all of us, (Roger, me, Jeanette and my husband Lee), thought we shouldn’t put on a mane at all as it was distracting, but I knew it had to have a mane. So it had to have a mane that matched it’s presence somehow. As well the idea I had had was a continuum of silver coming from the head and going down the back into the tail and into the “water”. It was one of those artistic decisions, compositional would give it strength, I felt.
So I gave it quite a bit of thought and we came at it again. I told Roger the effect I was after, and then we had to come up with a way to get there. We had found out that the steel rod in the centre of the cable was quite brittle. Roger then came up with the idea to drill holes into a plate shaped in the same curve as the neck, which we could again work on separately and add on afterwards. We tried a few things and it started to take shape again in a way that would work. It did involve silicone, and so needed setting time inside Rogers house. (We were working outside. This actually was lovely because there was never any fumes and the view was always great.)
y this time the weather was starting to get cold. The building site in Whitehorse was just getting to the point where we could get on it to put in the plinth. However we ended up making the decision to wait till next spring/summer to finish the project as the cost of the plinth was rising due to the colder weather. So after the mane went on, the horse sat, quite magnificently until the return of warmer weather. After doing the mane, I realized that the tail would need to be done differently as well. It too would require some siliconing and so would need temperatures above freezing at night, before we could complete it.
Once the weather started cooperating again we started doing a little more, although both of us were now working at other jobs and so had to work around our other schedules. Roger also filled and burnished the inside of the horses legs and up it’s buttocks to further the idea of the horse rising up out of the water. By the end of July we had finished the tail and it was ready to move. We wanted to do it without ceremony, quietly in the morning, just to keep the site safe for one thing. On August 13th at around 8 am we wereready to roll. Roger had positioned the horse securely on a trailer, behind his truck.
Norma Waddington came with us to take pictures and videos, as well as my son Colin and husband Lee. You can look up Colin’s You Tube clip online under “Raising the Horse” if you like. It was a grey drizzly morning, so the clip is somewhat dark. We were met in Whitehorse by RC Cranes who along with Roger figured out how to lift the horse safely off the trailer and onto the plinth.
That was the best feeling to have it in place after two years of hard work. The responses that I have been receiving since it has been installed are so positive. People have really embraced the sculpture and taken ownership of it as their own. I couldn’t have hoped for more.