In 1979, Charles Dent, a retired airline pilot read a National Geographic article entitled, ”The Horse That Never Was” the nearly 500 year old story of Leonardo’s destroyed colossal masterpiece. Inspired, Dent decided to “give Leonardo his Horse” by sculpting a suitable 24’ monument to Leonardo’s genius. He created the Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse, Inc. and consulted with art historians on the possibility of making a sculpture using Leonardo’s drawings and writings. The resulting life-sized clay model created by Dent and his friends was called “Charlie’s Horse.” Unfortunately, the sculpture was never completed, Dent died in the winter of 1994.
By the summer of 1996, Dent’s sculpture had been enlarged to 24' tall in a cement-like and clay material by Tallix art foundry in Beacon, New York. This rough preliminary work appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Shortly after, the foundry was overwhelmed by the media and press.
At the same time, a few people involved with the project and figurative sculptors working at the site noticed that the sculpture had proportional and anatomical problems. It was apparent that changes had to be made. Consequently, Nina Akamu was hired to modify and improve the sculpture.
During this time, Fred Meijer, owner of Meijer stores saw the article in the NY times. Upon learning that Nina Akamu would be making corrections to the flawed model, he and his advisors expressed strong interest in seeing the final results.
As each improvement was made on the plaster model, the less of Charlie’s Horse remained. After 4 frustrating months, the Board of Directors agreed that the anatomical changes were insurmountable, and the process too costly. It was an emotionally difficult time for LDVHI. Subsequently, Dent’s original model and the 24’ enlargement were entirely destroyed.
Charles Dent’s sculpture was destroyed, but his dream continued. A new chapter began with the critical financial sponsorship of Fred Meijer. With his support, Nina started an entirely new sculpture for LDVHI in the spring of 1997. It was a challenging task.
From the beginning of the project in the foundry, the help and support of Greg Glasson, Tallix Special Project Manager and Rod Skidmore, Artistic Director of LDVHI were invaluable. Technical input from a Sculptor’s Advisory Committee was also useful during the early stages of the project.
Leonardo’s numerous equine studies, manuscripts on the Sforza monument, specific scholarly writings, equine anatomy and other subject matter (see Artist’s Statement) were studied. Akamu’s years of living and studying in Italy were critical for this creation.
During this period, seven assistant sculptors were hired to transfer precise measurements from the finished model to the 2 ½ story rough clay enlargement. Nina’s innovative approach devised a specific enlarging technique using a laser pointer as well as a communication system for the assistants. This novel concept was critical during the enlarging process. The creation of the life-sized clay model, the clay enlargement and the finished bronzes within the foundry took almost three years and involved approximately 60 artisans.
The 24’ finished bronze sculpture was put on public display on the grounds of Tallix foundry for the weekend prior to its being flown to Italy. Over 60,000 people arrived inundating the small town and creating a massive five mile traffic jam.
On September 10, 1999, exactly 500 years to the date after the destruction of Leonardo da Vinci’s colossal horse, the modern tribute to Leonardo “Il Cavallo” was dedicated in Milan, Italy. One month later, the 24’ tall “American Horse” was dedicated at the Frederik Meijer Sculpture Garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Other copies are located in the central square in Vinci, Italy; Allentown, Pennsylvania and Sheridan, Wyoming.
© Nina Akamu