Horsin' around

Pewee Valley sculptor Bridwell
part of Derby's 'Gallopalooza' art event

By Helen E. McKinney

PEWEE VALLEY, Ky. (May 2004) – “And down the stretch they come!” Well, sort of. An artistic stampede of past Kentucky Derby winners and recreations of the mythical Pegasus horse are grazing on city streets around Louisville and outlying areas.
Ben Bridwell, an up and coming metal artist from Pewee Valley, heard about this event from a friend. He saw Gallopalooza as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Familiar with Chicago’s 1997 “Cows on Parade,” an event that helped spawn Gallopalooza, Bridwell submitted ideas to a sponsor pool along with other local and national artists. “I like a challenge,” he said of his efforts to design two horses in this Sidewalk Derby that will generate national focus on the Louisville Metro area.

Ben Bridwell

Photo provided

Ben Bridwell with one of his creations.

Bridwell, 37, submitted two drawings of Pegasus horses to Gallopalooza officials. Not receiving an immediate response, he forgot about the project. While on a business trip to Texas, he received a call from WLKY-32 TV officials interested in his ideas.
Station officials favored his work but wanted him to create a different look for the horse they had chosen, Whirlaway. Together with the news station, Bridwell came up with the idea to mount a helicopter on the horse’s back. This was symbolic of the WLKY-32 TV news chopper.
The finished thoroughbred sports an aluminum helicopter mounted on its back. It is operated by solar power and has flashing lights. An employee of D&D Automotive in Crestwood painted it with automotive paint to exactly match its news chopper counterpart.
Whirlaway is one of more than 200 140-pound life-size fiberglass horses that have been decorated for Gallopalooza. A company in Gibbon, Neb., that creates fiberglass animals has provided the equine figures. The horses are displayed in a variety of positions: prancing, standing still, some with wings and some with jockeys.
“The artists were pretty much given free range,” said Gallopalooza co-coordinator Lynn Huffman. The horses left their padlocks on April 29 during the Pegasus Parade and will be on display until mid-October 2004.
The Louisville Visual Art Association helped locate artists for this project. Each artist received a tax-deductible commission of $1,500 for their efforts.
Elizabeth George, the association’s executive director, was also chair of the Artistic Committee designated to finding artists for this project. She said a call for entries was sent out in November 2003. Artists were asked to sketch an outline for their entry, something that would be appropriate for public display.
Sponsors include area businesses, community leaders or individuals. The horses may be placed in front of the sponsoring business until October, when the sponsor has the option to purchase their horse for an additional donation of $5,000. Horses not bought will be auctioned off at Churchill Downs, with half of the proceeds from the sale going to Brightside, and the other half to the purchaser’s designated local charity.
Gallopalooza was the brainchild of John Conti, owner of John Conti Coffee Co. and Hank Wagoner, president of Jewish Hospital Healthcare Services. The two men approached Louisville Metro area Mayor Jerry Abramson and formed a committee in late July 2003.
Bridwell also designed a horse for Z Salon & Spa, located on Hurstbourne Lane and Shelbyville Road. This creation, ZBiscuit, is a spin-off from Sea Biscuit, said Bridwell. It is a prancing horse, with front foot raised and mane and tail blowing in the wind. To give the horse a quality unique to its sponsor, Bridwell gave it what he calls a “hair transplant.”
He placed 2,000, 1-inch copper ribbons on the mane and tail, to give the filly the appearance of wind blowing through its hair. It was painted with a distinctive copper mica color, said Bridwell, which is actually a Hundai automotive paint that gives the horse a shimmering, metallic effect.
For the last four years, Bridwell has operated his own business, Millennium Steel Werks. He creates whimsical aluminum and stainless steel sculptures, which can be found for sale at his wife’s La Grange business, Sign of the Times, Too.
“I’ve always been really creative,” the Western Kentucky University graduate said. He learned how to weld three years ago after attending an art show and viewing metal artwork.
He participates in four art shows a year and was recently featured in the Louisville Visual Art Association’s “Dinnerworks 2004.” George said his exhibit was a stunning glass table, complete with centerpieces. Bridwell currently has work on display in Utica, Ind., at Bob Hill’s Hidden Hill Farm.

• For more information on Gallopalooza visit: www.gallopaloozaderby.com or call Huffman at (502) 574-4030.

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