Back in the 1800's, long before before today's high gas prices curtailed our travel plans, horses were the main mode of transportation. Across Portland, iron 'horse rings' were embedded into the curbs of sidewalks to help tie down your steed. History buffs are rediscovering these quaint reminders of the horse-drawn era, and a new movement referred to as the 'Portland Horse Project' has sprung up to highlight these charming signs of antiquity.
Woodstock conceptual artist Scott Wayne Indiana set the project in motion last fall--by tying a miniature plastic horse to a curbside horse ring to draw attention to the Portland history underfoot. 'I loved the rings, and felt that people just weren't noticing them,' says Scott. 'This was an attempt to shake people out of their routines and get them to notice their surroundings.'
Since then, the 'Horse Project' has been joined by Brooklynite Kim Upham, and by Laura Kemp, and others. Horses have appeared in pedestrian-friendly sites across the city--but mostly on Portland's east side. 'We'd like people to adopt the project in their own neighborhoods,' says Upham, who has tethered over 150 teeny weeny horses in the area. Her tools are a hammer, strips of small gauge wire rope, and compression ferrules. 'The sales folks at Westmoreland's True Value Hardware store are especially helpful with supplies,' she says. 'They'll cut 1-1/2 foot lengths of wire rope for you, and explain how to attach the metal ferrules.'
The metal tethers keep the miniature ponies reined in, but rustlers occasionally round up and steal the strays. A palomino that appeared in front of Brooklyn's Aladdin Theater in mid-June only lasted a few weeks, and others wired to rings along Division Street and Woodstock Boulevard have also escaped. 'The one in front of the Pearl Bakery in NW Portland disappears all the time,' notes Upham. 'Scott is very Zen about their transience though. We even left a laminated note there for the horse thief.'
Scott Wayne Indiana has been creating art and exhibitions for about eight years. 'I'm a late bloomer to the Art world,' confesses the 32-year-old artist. 'I'm now focused on participatory art, where the concept is the beautiful thing.' He recently participated in a one-day Art Show at Mt. Scott Park called 'In Clover'. 'It was scheduled on the same day as their block party,' he says. 'Twenty artists from Portland, L.A., Seattle and Chicago helped bring Art to the Park.'
Indiana has created other Conceptual Art installations, such as a post and unfinished chain stretching east from Joshua Tree, California. 'People are invited to add links to the chain as a way of becoming involved in the Art,' he says.
He currently has a project at the Portland Art Center, at N.W. 5th and Couch Street, entitled '39 Axes Embedded in the Ceiling,' but he reassures us that the 'Portland Horse Project' is his regular passion. Recently, while installing miniature horses along the Woodstock business corridor, a passerby stopped to compliment him on the project and to shake his hand.
In Brooklyn, Kim Upham buys her plastic horses at thrift stores and Dollar Stores, although she'll also accept donations of weather-resistant breeds. Most of them are only a couple of inches high, but she knows of one tethered in the Irvington 'neigh'borhood that is a foot and a half tall. 'We're thinking of making a kit available for people who want to install their own, although there are also directions on the Internet,' she says. (It's true. Go to The Horse Project's official website).
'A lot of tourists have commented to us that they love the concept,' Upham continues. 'It really helps people become aware of their surroundings.'
Brooklyn residents Bryan and Jennifer Keilty have enjoyed spotting the horses in other neighborhoods. 'They're sort of like lawn gnomes,' says Bryan. 'Most people say, 'Hey, that's cool!' when they notice them.' Jennifer adds, 'People
just enjoy getting in on the story.'
Other street artifacts from Rose City history which can be noticed underfoot include old street names, sidewalk construction dates, engraved bricks, animal footprints in cement, iron 'curb protectors' on corners, WPA notations, and decorative cast utility access covers.
But, back to the ranch: 'People have left hay and water for some of our ponies,' says Upham. 'They've been supplemented with small riders, treats, and Pendleton wool blankets, and some local businesses take a lot of care with them. People just think the idea is great. We're trying to get volunteers organized through Yahoo, and are even looking for additional horses on 'Craigslist', although we'll go for anything people give us. We're always pleased when we see people accepting the concept as their own.'
As more and more people spot these miniature reminders of Portland's past, most seem to appreciate the reach of the Portland Horse Project, and how it teaches people to sharpen their powers of observation. 'The City of Portland is committed to replacing the antique horse rings after sidewalk repairs,' says Upham. 'We think a study of Portland's horse rings would make a wonderful educational project.'