Langley's newest auto body repair shop is putting the final clearcoat on a stable of horses on Friday. Yes, that's right. Open Road Richmond Auto Body on Fraser Highway is applying a shiny protective coating to eight life-sized fibreglass horses (seven adults males and one colt) that have been painted up by local artists and are going to be trotted out in the middle of the month.
They are the Horsing Around Langley pieces, and they're making their public debut at Willowbrook Shopping Centre on Jan. 14, with the exhibition staying in place until Feb. 3.
Horsing Around Langley is a year-long arts initiative, undertaken by the Langley Arts Council, to bring together the agricultural, and arts and cultural communities, while also raising awareness and funds for arts in Langley.
The large white horses were painted by local artists, and thanks to sponsorship by local companies and organizations (with partial sponsorships still available for some), will be set up permanently in various locations around the community.
But before that happens, they're all being brought together for one showing at Willowbrook.
Vivian Harder is one of the local artists selected to paint a Horsing Around horse, hers completed for the Township of Langley.
"I am grateful that I was chosen to paint the horse for the Township of Langley, because I live, play, and work in rural Langley," said the 54-year-old Aldergrove artist.
Harder is a horse lover, rider, and painter. She sold her first painting at age 14 - naturally it was of horses (two of her grandfather's plough horses to be exact), and she hasn't looked back since.
Now, the full-time artist said about half of her paintings contain horses - the rest are B.C. scenics, cats, and commission pieces.
Ironically, she said, most of her paintings have contained horses - but this is the first time she's literally painted on a horse.
She first learned about the arts council Horsing Around initiative this spring, visited their website, went through the "stringent" application process, "then I was on pins and needles for months.
"Just because it's horses and Langley, and I'm a Langley horse person who's also an artist, I had to do it. I just had to," she said.
The original concept Harder pitched was to paint a horse with an First Nations poem and some wild horses running across the plains. Since that didn't really fit with the Township's concept of rural Langley, she needed to come up with an entirely new design.
Finally receiving approval in mid-October, she went to work, feverishly painting about five or six hours a day over the course of the next month.
"Once I got that concept clear in my mind, it was easy from there. It just flowed out," she said, pulling the horse into the middle of
her main-floor home studio so she could work in relative comfort.
"It was quite physical to do. painting on the contoured surface, climbing up and down, painting underneath. my body was really hurting some days," said Harder, who overshot her estimated time by at least double, racking up 200 plus hours before handing over the reins.
Admittedly, part of the challenge was also using "very specific" materials necessary because of the outdoor application.
"[Acrylics] is my least favourite medium to work with. I like watercolours and oils because of the way they blend together," she said.
While it was a lot harder and took a lot more time than this lifetime horse enthusiast ever predicted, Harder is elated with the outcome and said she'd do another - if given the chance.
"The Township of Langley is described as a community of communities. I was able to portray this concept in my design by wrapping my horse with ribbons of roadways that tie the communities together. Not only does this give my horse a cohesive feel, it also makes him look like he is nicely gift wrapped," Harder said.
"The overall body of my horse is painted in the warm tones of the earth and is accented with blue sky and flowing rivers. He is highlighted with the sights and activities enjoyed by the residents of rural Langley. I am thrilled to be able to share this gift with
everyone. and because this horse is wrapped in ribbons of roads and he is a gift to the people of Langley, his name is The Gift Horse."
Harder's The Gift Horse, as well as the other completed sculptures will be on exhibit at the mall until early February. Willowbrook is also hosting a meet the artist days on Saturdays, Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, from 9: 30 a.m. to 6 p.m., when people can meet Harder and the other local artists Marilyn Dryer Siedel, Felicity Holmes, Glenda Mantle, Jeanie Shilton, Louise Swan, Becky Wallace, and Rosemary Wallace.
While the first eight horses are completed, the arts council is not yet done, said executive director Don Shilton. He's optimistic the concept will grow, and the horse sculptures will one day be found scattered in key locations throughout the community.