Issue Date: August 2008
Building a 13½-foot-tall horse
Chris McConnell, 22, wanted to attend art school. He learned how to weld at Auburn Career Center and turned around his mediocre high school grades at Lakeland Community College. But he thought his art portfolio needed a little something extra to put him over the top.
by Chris McConnell, as told by Andy Netzel
I've been trying to get out of Mesopotamia for years. My goal was to get into the Cleveland Institute of Art. I needed something for my portfolio that would make them want me.
This was going to be the third sculpture I've done in my life. I did a replica of a human knee and a ratchet, both out of clay. They could sit on a table.
I thought: Why not make something huge?
I started with a 12-foot-by-4-foot-by-4-foot box on the driveway, but my dad yelled at me. He didn'treally have faith that I'd finish it.
“Dad, I'm building a horse!"
“OK, put it in the yard so I don't hit it," he said.
Then I made the rear leg. The idea was to create the horse out of straight lines. I had to weave a lot of boards together to make it look three-dimensional.
Once I finished that single leg, I thought, This is going to be awesome.
I needed 2,300 board feet for the project, so I would go to Carter Lumber and grab like 10 boards at a time -- spacers that they would otherwise throw out. It's difficult when you're relying on scraps.
I didn't have a nail gun, just a regular battery-powered cordless drill. I used 30 pounds of screws. It takes some strength to drive those in, especially when you're leaning while balancing on one foot.
After I got the ribs on, people started asking what I was doing. People could see it while driving by.
For months, I worked on the horse as if it was lying on its side. I needed to stand it up for me to build the head. Five neighbors came over to help me out. We tied ropes to the midsection and one of my friends drove a four-wheeler to lift it up. I put 16-foot boards up to support it.
To build the neck, I climbed up on a ladder and stood on the back, so it could be a balancing act when putting in screws. My head was 17 feet off the ground. I could see over my house.
The shoulder muscle was really hard. I would often screw in a board then back up to make sure it was how I wanted it. Every board is there for a reason. Each one represents a groove, a piece of a muscle, a line your eye follows when looking at a real horse.
Then people started stopping. A Kent State teacher came and brought foreign exchange students from Japan, Korea and Mexico. They started taking pictures.
When I told my Amish neighbor I was building a horse, he looked at me like I was crazy. The inspiration came from his horses, which stand in a pasture all day.
It only took me 10 days after my friends came to finish it. After I got it propped up, I had a system. It came together like Legos.
We used a Chevy F-1500 pickup with a V8 to drag it to the front yard, and it was struggling. It was nearly touching the power lines.
The owner of the End of the Commons General Store stopped within five hours and wanted to buy it. He paid me a little extra to put it back in the backyard and cover it up so not everyone could see it.
Of course there are some bigger horses in stone and bronze in Europe, but this is Mesopotamia, Ohio. This was huge. He asked me to attach a buggy to the back and he'd display it in front of his store.
Everyone in town sees it now.
The years since high school were hard. I flip-flopped jobs several times -- I couldn't find my way, but I kept drawing. Everything I could think of I did around here: I worked in a factory. I did yard work. I milked cows for two years.
And now, I'm in. The Cleveland Institute of Art accepted me. I start in the fall. And I got a pretty darn good scholarship. It feels really good.
People around town come up to me all the time. I don't mind, but I can't wait to move on to the next project. I want to do a 100-yard-long dragon. But next is a 15-foot-long Holstein cow, lying on a hillside. I've got plans.