As part of a recent project on a houseboat, I was entrusted the skull of a beloved horse. We had talked about table gardens. The topic came up as I spied this fabulous driftwood log on the bank of the river. “This is going to sound weird, but do you think you could you plant a horse’s head?”, asked the client. I, immediately thinking how cool this could become, jumped at the chance. Said and done, weeks later, the horse head was brought from their other home in North Dakota. Here name was Flash, and she was a gift horse, at age 28—which is old for a horse. Even so, she roamed their property for another 5 years, until one day she disappeared. It took them months to find her, and when they finally did, only the head was left. They took her home, and now Flash has moved to Portland.
Sadly, Flash had gotten a little damaged in transit—the bridge of the nose had broken off. After stewing on it awhile, I ended up using wire mesh and hot glue to secure it back on. While I was at it, I also re-attached a couple of loose teeth. As you can see in the photo, the teeth are rather cracked. The whole skull proved very brittle and fragile, and as you can probably imagine, this caused me some worry.
Anyway, I had this vision of a happy horse, roaming the North Dakota plains, rearing on its hind legs, throwing its head back and winnowing, the mane flowing with the movement. Now, to translate that into reality proved a bit of a challenge. The clients had, with the help of their kayaks, towed the driftwood log to their slip, where it was drying out. I wanted the horse to somehow become a feature of the log, but how the hell would I be able to secure it the way I was imagining it??? Obviously, I only had the head to work with, and I wanted it to have some movement. I attempted to somehow express the throwing of the head and the winnowing by floating the lower jaw slightly above the log, and then… well, then WHAT??
I went through and discarded so many ideas… Could I use a lug bolt? Or, maybe an eyelet bolt? Rebar? How about a nice rock? I consulted my metalsmith neighbor to see if he had any thoughts on the matter. I walked up and down the hardware section at the hardware store, but nothing truly useful jumped out at me. I started to get really worried that I wasn’t going to pull this one off, as I had hoped. Weeks went by. Then one day, our neighborhood grocery store came to the rescue. I found these great large hooks used for hanging bikes and organizing the garage. I bought a few, but I still wouldn’t be able to know until I had everything in front of me—horse, hooks, and log. Today was the day, and to tell you the truth-—I was scared shitless that I would screw it all up, and worse—break that brittle, beloved horse’s head.
The log had some long groves which I was planning to plant with cute little ferny Leptinella. As part of the horse, I envisioned using curly rush that would grow through the cavities, representing that flowing mane, but first I had to place and stabilize the head. The cheekbones rest directly on the log, and the lower jaw is held up by a U-hook that I drilled into the log, and some wire. Once that was in place, I spent some time playing with the upper part. I drilled another hole for the larger, padded bike hook I was hoping would work. After messing around with angles for a bit, I realized that I needed to drill a different hole, about an inch lower. The reason was the way the bone was formed—I needed to get it down to a level where the jaw joints could connect naturally, and there was a bone in the way preventing that. Thankfully, I got it right on the second try, and everything fit into place. After that, I wired the upper jaw to the hook as inconspicuously as possible to secure it. It took some finagling, and was SO RELIEVED when it was done, and nothing was broken! After that, adding the curly rush was easy.
This evening, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself (and still VERY relieved) for pulling this off. In the end, challenges like this is my favorite part of doing what I do. I love when I get a chance to incorporate something truly special in a design. A few years ago when working on a remodel, I was handed a box of tiles bought on vacation in Mexico. It was a thrill to build in their family memories! This time around, it was a pet horse. I honestly can’t wait for the curly rush to fill in a little! Despite my care, you can see some of the wires and hooks. When that grass grows, the hardware will barely be noticeable. Whether my wired arrangement can withstand the wintry wind gusts that occasionally plague the Willamette River houseboats, remains to be seen. Fingers crossed, would you please?
Lastly, in the future, there will also be a 10′ rain screen built behind the log toward the neighbor, but this is a project the owner wanted to execute himself. When in place, it will eradicate some of the background clutter, and provide a nice privacy screen, once it’s done. I hope he gets to it soon – can’t wait to see it all together!