Two lovely folk horses from Tamilnadu now have a permanent home in the garden of a storyteller who lives in Gore’s Landing Ontario. These great beasts stand close to 15 feet tall and they survive the rigours of winter in Canada quite well. They have lived in Gore’s landing since 2001. Before that these two handsome steeds were the property of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. They enjoyed their public debut there at a December 2000 – January 2001 exhibition curated by Dr. Stephen Inglis called India — The Living Arts.
Dr. Inglis was a Ph.D. student in The Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia while Dr. Beck was teaching there back in the 1970s. For his doctoral research, Stephen decided to study a group of potters in the Madurai area of South India. Once there he fell in love with their artwork and the stylish horses these skilled craftsmen were regularly turning out on commission. He took plenty of photographs and also proportional measurements as a part of documenting for posterity how these grand animals were made. This is why, when he became Curator of South Asia at the Museum of Civilization, he had the detailed notes needed to recreate something like this in Canada.
Brenda Beck worked with Stephen Inglis as an informal academic advisor and supervised some of his thesis work while they were both in Vancouver. He admired her work with folklore and story telling and she admired his broad knowledge of South Indian craft traditions. Years later, when Dr. Inglis had completed his Ph.D. and taken up the position as Curator at the Museum of Civilization, he decided to plan and oversee a feature exhibition on South Asian Popular Arts. For this exhibition he wanted to have a set of the marvelous horses he remembered so fondly from his work in Tamilnadu. He planned to have them greet visitors and the main door of the exhibition. But how could one transport such delicate work all the way from India to Ottawa, Canada? The technical challenges were too great to surmount with the budget Stephen had, so he decided to have a set made by the museum staff instead. The craftsmen there used various techniques to build accurate duplicates using Stephen’s old pictures along with some modern-day materials to ensure long-term durability and strength.
Brenda was one of the exhibition visitors who not only admired the two horses but understood exactly where they were from. She had seen similar horses created at the hands of local potters in the village where she had stayed for two years, in an area that shared the same craft tradition. Just as the Museum of Civilization exhibition was closing on Republic Day 2001, a great earthquake hit the state of Gujarat, causing many deaths and wide-spread destruction. So the museum decided that a good way to recognize the victims affected and at the same time give back something to India would be to donate to the earthquake fund. The museum staff knew that they had to sell off some of the items in their magnificent Living Arts displays. There would not be enough storage space to keep everything. The two horses were one item that had to go. So a great auction was held and the horses, along with may other items, were bid on by the visiting public. Brenda and her husband Eric participated in this, and much to their surprise and delight they won the two horses!
When the museum announced the winners they told Brenda and Eric, “these horses are yours, but you have to transport them away from the museum storage yard yourselves!” Fortunately Eric is a man of great ingenuity and he soon figured out a way to transport the two horses using a low-slung flat bed truck. Alas, both horses had to have their heads removed for the journey, because the load would have struck several low-hanging wires and bridges on their way to Gore’s Landing. Fortunately the horses had been built in a way that their heads could come off without extensive damage. But you can imagine how many heads turned as the truck drove through central Ottawa with two beheaded horses riding behind the cab on its flatbed!
Brenda and Eric live on a farm that has an old offload ramp. So getting the horses to descend from the flatbed was not a big problem. Then they were moved with rollers to the side of their house where there is an overhanging porch on the second floor. The heads were reattached with a lift positioned on this balcony and then were re-painted to help them withstand the weather. After this they were placed near a lovely pond at the bottom of the garden. There they have stood for twelve years as the animation of The Legend of Ponnivala occurred nearby. Every now and again the animators would look out the window and take inspiration from these two grand steeds. After all, The Legend of Ponnivala has two heroes and each of these warriors has his own magical horse to ride! In Gore’s Landing one can see them standing by, ready to serve once again, just outside our animation studio windows. At our ATN broadcast celebration party we will be asking each guest to add a dab of fresh paint, to make sure the two stand proud and bright once again!