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By Ed Moreth 

Painted horses show up on greenway


September 27, 2018

Ed Moreth

SURPRISE DISPLAY – Ed Foste (left) and Stephen Steinebach fasten part of the burlap art while Marilyn Carey holds up the next part to be fastened.

Crooks utilize the cover of darkness for dastardly deeds, but Dave Williams of Plains and his crew used the nighttime to surprise residents with colorful art.

Just as the sun was setting last Wednesday evening, Williams and 15 friends and family members started tacking up nearly 1,000 feet of the Wild Horse Plains herd across the chain link fence on the greenway along Railroad Street. By 11 p.m., "Becoming the Guardian of the Herd" was up on display.

The exhibit is a form of guerilla art, which is supposed to be art that makes a statement. It goes up and down without notice or fanfare. Williams did talk with town officials as a courtesy, but didn't tell them when it would go up or come down. But on Thursday morning, the town was treated to 216 colorful horses of the herd and their five guardians, which were spaced randomly along the fence.

"The whole idea is to surprise the community," said Williams. "I also wanted to highlight the work of a veteran," said Williams, who served four years in the U.S. Navy. "I also wanted to show off," he admitted.

Using exterior latex paint, Williams and his assistant artist, Haylee Steinebach, 14, painted the horses on six 50-yard rolls of burlap. The guardians – each representing a branch of the military and painted in the service colors, were also painted on burlap, but done with acrylic paint and had a plastic backing and a wooden frame. The guardian horses, which are five feet wide and eight feet tall, were done in a vertical format. The 56-year-old Navy veteran also made three other large-format horses, which they placed amongst the trees at the left end of the display. One represents disabled veterans; another was designed for gold star families (veterans who died in the service of their country); and one was created to symbolize green star families (those impacted by the suicide of a veteran).

"I'm really pleased with this and thankful for all the help," said Williams, who came up with the idea in December 2016. He and Steinebach started working on the project in January in Williams' basement, sometimes putting in six to eight hours a day. He said it took a week just to mix the blue and green dyes for the burlap background. Steinebach said they started out doing several herd horses a day, going faster as time went by.

"It was really hard at first, but by the end of it, we could paint a horse with our eyes closed," said Steinebach. "It's not like painting on canvas. We had to learn a whole new way of how to paint on burlap," said the Plains High School freshman art student.

The pair used a combination of brushes, rollers and sponges. The toughest part was waiting for the paint to dry, according to Steinebach, especially when the basement was cold at the start of the year. Williams said the first guardian horse took about three days to complete, but the last one took only about 10 hours.

The colors of the herd horses – red, black, white, and yellow – were based on the Sunday school song "Jesus Loves the Little Children," said Williams, who's been a professional artist for four years and works in an assortment of mediums: acrylic and watercolor, graphite drawing, sculptures, and wood.

Williams and Steinebach finished the final horse on the Sunday prior to setting up their exhibit. The art pieces were fastened to the fence by bungies and zip ties. He said he selected the area next to the railroad tracks because the airstream of the passing trains give the waving burlap the motion of running horses. He said he gave a cheer when he saw the burlap horses waving when the first train went by while they were hanging the display. He was told by one of his helpers that this might be the longest burlap art project in the world.

Four women spent countless hours cutting and sewing the burlap herd horses and four others installed the thousand grommets. Dan Pudelko made the wooden frames for the guardian horses and Studs Building & Home provided some financial aid for the project.

Ed Moreth

HERD CREATORS – Haylee Steinebach and Dave Williams pose with three of the large horses. The blue one – missing part of a leg – represents the disabled veteran. The middle one is for the green star families and the other end horse represents the gold star families.

Although Williams said that surprising the local residents was a big part of doing the project, he also hopes word gets out about the display in order to draw other people to Plains.

Williams won't say when the herd will come down and he's not sure what will become of the horses afterwards. He's had offers to display it in Kalispell, Missoula, Helena, and Spokane, Wash. If he sells a portion or the entire display, he plans to donate a third of the proceeds to Joint Operation Mariposa, a nonprofit organization he created three years ago to bring awareness to veteran suicides and the families that are impacted. He said he's going to donate the disabled veteran horse art piece to the Veteran's Administration. The green star horse will go to the students of Plains School, who will decide on its final destination. "They can give it to whoever they want," said Williams. "If the students want it to go to the president of the United States, I'll do my best to get it there."


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