They once rocked generations of city kids for a quarter a pop but thanks to artist Lisa Brawn, a small herd of retired, rescued and refurbished mechanical horses now gently rocks the wind-swept Alberta prairie.
They're what one might call an endangered species, those coin-operated mechanical horses once ubiquitous to supermarket and department store lobbies and storefronts. Time has passed these ponies by, however, and countless numbers of coin-op rocking horses have ended long and arduous lives in recycling facilities, landfills and scrap heaps.
If you think these proud ponies deserve a better fate, then you'll appreciate what artist Lisa Brawn (above) has created in an interactive, solar-powered, kinetic sculptural installation at the Leighton Art Centre near Millarville, Alberta. Called Helios, the art installation comprises eight rescued mechanical horse rides arranged to replicate a small herd of “wildies” - free-running wild horses who once roamed the untamed western prairies.
Getting the horses to their current state took over three years of “backbreaking” work. “They had wasp nests in them and all the wiring was chewed by mice,” relates Brawn. “The motors were seized, all the paint was blistered and all the leather on the saddles was rotten. So it was a disaster.”
Decades of caked-on paint had to be sand-blasted off the former kiddie rides which stood outside Woolworths, Woodward's, Kresge's and Kmart stores between the 1950s and 1980s. Once down to bare metal, Brawn coated the horses in silver leaf to give them an “illusory” look that reflected their primal surroundings. Substantial mechanical modifications were made to the horses' mechanisms as well.
Coins are no longer needed, for one thing. Now the horses rock to the rhythm of solar power stored in batteries and are activated by motion sensors hidden in the underbrush. The bases upon which the horses are mounted have been fitted with clear plexiglass covers that reveal their inner workings.
Bathed by warm Alberta sunshine and caressed by fresh breezes blowing off the Rocky Mountain foothills, these survivors of a bygone age enjoy a fitting reward for all their years of uncomplaining service. “I believe these horses are a touchstone of that era,” states Brawn, “holding a place of local historical value in our collective cultural imagination.”
You can visit this most unusual herd of historic horses at the Leighton Art Centre but you'd better saddle-up and hit the trail. Helios is scheduled to end its run on November 26th, 2016 and at press time, Brawn was hoping to find a permanent home for the exhibit after it wraps up. (via CBC)