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By Ed Moreth 

A 'Wild Horse' herd


February 8, 2018

Ed Moreth

HEADS OR TAILS – Kenton Pies welds pieces of sheet metal to the back end of his steel horse, which he hopes will be part of a herd along the greenway in Plains.

One Plains man has a 200-pound horse that's gaining weight everyday and he's not even feeding it. That's because he's making a steel horse, one of five that he hopes will be used to highlight Wild Horse Plains.

Kenton Pies has been working on his metal horse since September and is about halfway done with the first one, which he plans to display somewhere in town to help raise enough funds to construct the rest of the herd.

"It's called Wild Horse Plains by a lot of people and it would get a lot of people looking at them, and they'll attract people to Plains," said the 85-year-old retired commercial artist. Pies admits it's a way for him to earn money, but he feels having the line of big metal horses on the greenway along Railroad Street would be a great tourist attraction.

"I like to create things and this is something I think would be good for the community. I'm retired but I can't just sit around twiddling my thumbs," said Pies, who believes it will cost between $26,000 and $30,000 to complete the project, although he hopes to get around $16,000 from the Montana Office of Tourism in the form of a matching grant.

Pies has talked with the Plains Woman's Club, Plains Business Association, Plains Lions Club, and the Plains Town Council in an effort to raise funds before he can apply for the grant. Each group liked the idea, but none had money for the project. On Monday, Plains Mayor Dan Rowan asked the town council if they'd like to contribute money to the project, but they declined.

Pies is also collecting names on a petition of sorts to show that there is community support for the horses. He said he already has nearly two pages of signatures and hopes to collect around 200. "It's good for the community and it'll bring tourists in and that's good for businesses here," said Pies.

The Plains man has already put several hundred dollars of his own money and countless hours of labor into his project. He's done most of the work in a stall that used to be for his horse, which had passed away, on his property about three miles east of Plains. There were several times that he had to curtail the work because of cold temperatures and snow, but he usually works on it three or four hours a day. Although the cold has slowed Pies down a bit and it's sometimes tough working on the horse by himself, his motivation hasn't dimmed.

"This, like many of my creations, comes from innovation, developing new techniques, and a lot of hard work. As part of the horse comes together there is achievement satisfaction, then tackle the next phase," said Pies, who has had some help with the welding and holding pieces he's working on. "As I look at my progress since September it's amazing how far I've gone in four and a half months with little help," he said.

Pies got the idea from seeing metal horses on a hill in Vantage, Wash. In 2016 he started formulating thoughts about having a line of steel horses somewhere in the Plains area. He first thought about a spot atop a hill on Highway 28, just north of town and considered a place on private property on the "P" Hill, but decided the terrain would make it too difficult to get the sculptures in place. He contacted Montana Rail Link (MRL) about putting the horses along the greenway across from the old elementary school. MRL is for it, but needs a letter from the town, which Rowan said is forthcoming.

The horse is 10 feet long and 8 feet tall. It's made from various types of metal from three-eighths to half-inch rebar, quarter-inch pencil rod for the skeleton, and quarter-inch perforated steal covering. He's looking at using one and quarter-inch steel fence or plumbing caps for the eyes, then coating the entire body with a special type of rapid setting cement. Presently, the horse is in on a steel frame with rollers for mobility, but he plans to have the finished product in a concrete base.

Pies started by creating a life-size sketch of a running horse he keeps on a wall next to the work in progress, but he also has about 80 photographs in different poses to use as references. He also took photos of metal sculpture horses by Jim Dolan of Belgrade. Pies said he received a lot of encouragement from Dolan, as well as getting some technique ideas from him.

He initially planned for eight horses, but the cost of the project prompted him to make five, although he would continue making the other four only after getting funded. He hopes to complete the first horse in four or five months.

"This horse is a test run for the best method to build the other five horses. If I change sizes I'll keep this one to show others what can be done with horses out of steel."

Ed Moreth

FACE LIFT – Kenton Pies works on the head of his 10-foot long metal horse.

Pies started dabbling in art at age 6 and was paid for art as a teenager. He did some professional work during his time in the Army. Later, he started his own business, Kenton Designs, LLC, and did an assortment of artwork; wood, stone, glass, clay and oil. He started working with metal around 1962. Much of his professional metal work became part of large signs or artwork on buildings, residential and commercial. He likes metal because of the permanence. After his retirement in Washington in 2005, he moved to Plains, but he couldn't completely remove himself from the world of art and continued on smaller projects. In 2013, he and Derek VonHeeder of Plains created a 50-foot dragon for a playground on Mercer Island, Wash.

"I would be bored without art," said Pies, who plans to transport his finished single horse into Plains so people can see it and for fundraising purposes. "I'm not sure how exited one can get by working hard for months with little or no help and hoping to get funding for a massive art project done completely on speculation. My encouragement so far is the list I'm accumulating from people who like my idea."


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