By Ed Moreth 

Artist adds to Plains herd

Second steel horse installed


April 23, 2020

Ed Moreth

UP & AWAY – Artist Kenton Pies (far right) uses a crane to lift his second horse off a trailer and into place at the greenway in Plains as volunteers Andy Gonzalez (left) and Sig Person help direct and guide the steel equine.

A second steel horse was added to the Plains greenway along Railroad Street last week when the artist and two helpers used a crane to hoist the 600-pound sculpture onto a concrete block, which had been installed by the Plains Public Works Department the previous week. 

Kenton Pies has had his second horse done since March 3, when he did a little tweaking on the tail and was waiting for the hole to be dug and a concrete block placed in the ground 40 feet in front of the first horse, which was positioned there in December 2018. It took Pies, Andy Gonzalez and Sig Person, who both helped construct the horses, just over an hour to get the horse bolted in place. The group used heavy straps wrapped around the horse's waist to raise it off a trailer. It was lowered and carefully centered on the concrete base, where Gonzalez used six seven-inch bolts to affixed the horse's steel pedestal to the concrete. Barbara Pies, Kenton's wife, and Chris Person, Sig's wife, were on hand to watch the horse installation.

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"I've worked hard to get it like I want, and I'm not done yet, but I think the two horses look quite good, but I think the third rearing horse will add some pizzazz," said Pies, who did a little touch up on the brown stain of the second horse the Sunday before the installation.

However, it looks like the third one, which he already has partially done, will be the last, due to a lack of donations and volunteer help with the labor. "I don't see any reason to go into hock and borrow money for this thing. I've been putting my own money into the horses. I've got some donations, but not enough to keep it going. This is an expensive proposition," said Pies, who added that the work is starting to wear him out. "I'm happy with him now and the third horse makes a complete unit, even though I would have liked to have five," said Pies.

The 87-year-old Pies started on horse number two in January 2019 and spent an average of two hours a day on it at his home just east of Plains, putting around 314 hours into it prior to loading it onto a trailer last week. He designed the second horse with a more slender neck - about six inches thinner - following some criticism of the first horse. The new brown horse is 9 1/2 feet long from the nose to the tip of the tail, stands just over 6 feet tall and is 2 1/2 feet wide. He used more pencil rods for the general skeleton form on the second one and used thinner sheet metal and more roofing screws to hold much of the metal together instead of welds.

Pies has received material donations from Cd'A Metals of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and RTI Fabrication of Plains. The late Bill Curry and Andy Gonzalez, both of Plains, helped him on the first horse and Sig Person of Paradise volunteered his time to help with the second and third one. He has received around $1,200 in monetary donations and added several thousands of dollars of his own money for the nonprofit project, which is why his third horse will likely be his last, particularly since he has only enough metal left for the third horse.

Pies started on the project in September 2017. He knew it was going to be a monumental task and originally he planned for eight horses, then five, and now the "Wild Horse Plains" herd will probably be only three. In the beginning, Pies was certain he would get more support in the form of donated funds and volunteer assistance. He tried to get a matching grant from the Montana Office of Tourism and reached out to the Plains Town Council, Plains Woman's Club, and the now defunct Plains Business Association with no luck. He still believes the steel horses will attract tourism and therefore added revenue for Plains businesses. "Some people travel long distances to see tourist attractions," said Pies, a retired commercial artist, who made a living creating wood, stone, glass, metal, and clay signs. Much of his professional metal work became part of large signs or artwork on residential and commercial buildings. After his retirement in Washington state in 2005, he moved to Plains, but he couldn't completely remove himself from the art world and continued on smaller projects. In 2013, he and Derek VonHeeder of Plains created a 50-foot dragon for a playground on Mercer Island, Washington.

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 Each horse was first done with a heavy sheet metal base with a rebar skeletal form. A thinner sheet metal was placed over that and atop of the sheet metal was expanded metal. A concrete coating was applied to the perforated steel, something he has to do quickly because it sets up quickly. He puts two coats on the horse before the staining process. Pies studied dozens of horse photos to make the sculpture equines as realistic as possible.

He started on the third horse before he was done with number two and is more than halfway done with it, which is rearing up on its back legs. The horse stands nearly nine feet tall and will lead the pack on the greenway. For his rearing horse, he had to have RTI Fabrication make a 73-inch pedestal instead of the 62-inch ones the company made for the other two horses. On the third horse, he decided on a different approach in the making of the head, forming the face first, then welding it to the skeleton base, which eliminated the need for several pieces of pencil rods. "I figure out some things as I go. I analyze it daily and sometimes I change as I go," said Pies. 

He concentrates most of his efforts on the face because it has the most detail. One of the challenges on the third horse is its height, which means Pies sometimes has to carry heavy pieces of metal higher up a ladder, not always an easy task for a man approaching 90. With the skeleton complete, Pies started placing the sheet metal around some parts. He still has numerous pencil rod pieces to weld into place. Unfortunately, the third horse is too tall to fit inside the barn, where he worked on the first two horses with portable heaters during cold spells. He has the third sculpture  in a semi-covered area to help shield him from the elements, but some of the recent dips in temperatures have delayed production. He said that Person has been unable to help him lately, but he hopes to get him back soon and would like to have the horse done sometime late this summer. Gonzalez also said he'd like to help, time permitting. Barbara Pies said she believes the herd would look better with a colt in the mix.

The project began as a moneymaker, but Pies soon switched it to a nonprofit for a community attraction, but it's also a matter of leaving a part of his legacy behind. Long after he's gone, people will be able to see his signature etched in the base of each horse. Pies said that if he gets enough donations to purchase materials and gets additional volunteer help, he would consider doing the colt, which he said would be a good addition to the group. An account - Wild Horses of Plains - has been established at Rocky Mountain Bank for people to donate. Even though Pies is starting to get worn out, he said if he were to get enough money for materials to make the colt, which would be about $1,600, he would build it.

Ed Moreth

STEEL EQUINE –Kenton Pies works on the face of his third horse sculpture destined for the Plains greenway along Railroad Street. Pies hopes to have the rearing horse in place this summer.


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