By Shya Beth
Alexa King knows how to bring out the spirit of the horse through her sculptures. Carving out not only the shape of her subject but intimately detailing her sculpture with the personal nuances that make her subjects instantly recognizable, it’s no wonder that Alexa has been commissioned to portray some of America’s most iconic equine legends.
Alexa was born in 1952 in Muncie, Indiana, where she grew up with parents who encouraged her art career, developing an eye for form and dynamism. Her mother’s artistic talents bridged with her father’s construction and their move to the countryside of southern Indiana created a nurturing landscape for her to develop her artistic skills.
Breeding horses and running her own farm gave Alexa her subject: before turning to art full time, she bred over 100 of her own horses, producing many champions and top show horses in their divisions. “Two of my proudest moments were when my stallion GTF Maker’s Mark, a Hackney horse, was accepted into the KWPN registry as a breeding stallion, and when GTF Beetlejuice, a half-Arabian half-Hackney, won multiple national championships,” she said.
Alexa also raced trotting ponies, winning world championships and Woman Driver of the Year awards. As a horsewoman herself, Alexa knows horses inside and out, and that transcends to her sculptural work. “I see a lot of artists copying what they think a horse looks like or how it interacts with a human being,” she said. “I’m not getting a visceral kick from these depictions. I think the problem may be that they’re not horsemen or -women but wildlife or animal artists. They don’t know a horse: They may see a horse but not feel a horse.”
While studying studio art as a painting major at Ball State University, Alexa discovered the power of three dimensional forms in a life modeling class. Her first bronze casting was created when she moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and three months later Alexa had her first solo art exhibition at the Morris Douglas Fine Arts and Phippen O’Brien Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. This exhibit kickstarted her career and lead her into her path as a world renowned sculptor. Her first major commission was to create a series representing the Pony Express for Nelson Rockefeller Collections in New York City.
From there, Alexa’s career grew. Perhaps her most famous work of art is the Barbaro Memorial that stands preeminent at Churchill Downs, a larger-than-life bronze of the legendary Thoroughbred who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby by six-and-a-half lengths. Alexa was chosen out of 100 artists by the selection panel, including Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Barbaro’s owners and breeders, of Lael Stables. Her clay miniature of the future monument captivated the panel. Usually, these types of projects take two to three years to complete. Alexa had six months. “I did the enlargement myself and all the modeling of the work. I wasn’t stressed by the time limits. I knew this piece would have to be sculpted one step at a time. And each step would allow me to go to the next.”
The first issue was studio space. Her studio was then located in Wisconsin, and much too small. After no luck finding a studio large enough, Alexa measured her garage. It had no heat or air conditioning and only one small window, but it was just large enough to fit the sculpture in progress. “I couldn’t get away from the model to look at it from all angles. I basically had to lean on my maquette to insure that the enlargement was correct and the model reflected the smaller version.” Alexa explained.
A little over two years after Barbaro’s death, Alexa, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, friends and fans of Barbaro gathered at Churchill Downs to celebrate his life and legacy. “It was a moment I will never forget,” Alexa said.
As legendary as Barbaro was, Alexa’s representation of him lives up to his memory. Created so that the 1,500 pound sculpture has all four feet off the ground with the only support being a single horizontal bronze rail, this monument gives off an impression that Barbaro and his jockey, Edgar Prado, are suspended in time and space. However, this isn’t just a tribute to this famed racehorse — it’s also the first time an equine statue of this size and scope has been created with all four of the horse’s hooves off the ground, a show of true artistic and architectural mastery.
Barbaro and countless other horses live on, forever frozen in time by the crafting hands of Alexa King. Each sculpture tells a story of an animal, whether a living legend or a past beloved companion. When gazing at Alexa’s statues and sculptures, time stands still.
For more information, visit alexakingfineart.com
Art Of The Horse is the world’s first equine art platform, established in 2014 by Shya Beth. With weekly articles featuring up-and-coming as well as world-renowned artists, art exhibitions and art news, Art Of The Horse is the premier source for all things equine art. Visit artofthehorse.net.
All images courtesy of Alexa King