A grazing herd on Converse College’s front lawn is turning heads. Seven horses made from a hodgepodge of materials — scrap metals, wires, road signs, tires, gears and pipes — are on display in front of Twichell Auditorium.
“I hoped people would be this enthusiastic, but I didn’t realize how great it would feel. Everyone loves it.”
The sculptures are part of the senior art exhibition of Spartanburg native and Converse senior, Bailey Szustak. Szustak, 20, said the life-sized sculptures are the result of a childhood love of horses combining with a newfound passion for welding and nearly two years of effort.
The collection, titled “Techne” — a Greek word that means both art and craft — has been a popular draw on campus, officials said. It has slowed traffic on the circle in front of Wilson Hall and attracted numerous passersby who have stopped to admire and photograph the sculptures. “I hoped people would be this enthusiastic,” she said. “But I didn’t realize how great it would feel. Everyone loves it. It’s been really great.”
The sculptures are more than just Szustak’s “blood, sweat and tears” over many months, she said. They also represent her growth as an artist. “I had never done sculpture at all,” she said of her arrival on campus. But a freshman class on 3-D design piqued her interest, she said, and following her freshman year, she enrolled at Spartanburg Community College for a summer course on welding.
In that class, a 17-year-old Szustak worked alongside middle-aged men learning technical welding skills. The only girl and the only artist in her workshop, she said the men challenged her at the end of the course. “Ok, you’ve been here, now go make something,” she said she was told.
Szustak continued to turn heads in the community, at local hardware stores and a scrap yard, as she bought the supplies and collected the materials needed for her work. The first horse took six months to complete, Szustak said. It started as a doodle, then a ceramic sculpture before Szustak created a life-sized sculpture from road signs, pipes and car tires. With the encouragement of friends and faculty, the horse became a herd and then the unusual decision was made for the art to be shown not at a gallery, but on the campus lawn. “They’re horses, and they should be grazing,” Szustak said.
The sculptures have been on display for nearly two weeks and the exhibition’s official opening was held Thursday at Wilson Hall.
Why horses? Szustak said the animals have long been a childhood favorite and she even modeled the sculptures after the designs in some of the “how to draw horses” sketchbooks she kept from her childhood. “Little girls always love horses,” she said, before smiling and adding a joke. “And my dad wouldn’t buy me a real horse for Christmas.”
At more than 100 pounds each, the sculptures are the end result of many long days on campus and at her parent’s home in Spartanburg. She’s named each after a character in Greek mythology. A powerful-looking horse is Kratos, the personification of strength. A grazing mare is Eos, goddess of dawn.
At Converse, Szustak said she would often work on the sculptures until almost midnight. At home, she worked with the help of her parents and younger sister, who cut the wires that became the horses’ tails. “You don’t stop until you’re satisfied, until you’ve created a perfect piece,” she said of her artistic process. “Now, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“They’re all I have to show for the last two years,” Szustak added. “That’s all I’ve been doing.” Szustak is majoring in both philosophy and studio art, with an art history minor. After the summer, she will pursue her master degree in philosophy at Texas Tech University in Lubbuck, Texas. She hopes she can sell the horses, in part to pay for graduate school and said there has already been interest in the work.
Eventually, the soon-to-be Converse graduate hopes to earn her doctorate and then return to college in a teaching or administrative role. “I want to be some place with the same vibe as Converse,” she said. “I’d love to end up back here.”
This story was written by Drew Brooks of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Photo credit John Byrum.