Ever noticed driftwood on the beach? Rockland artist Richard Allen certainly does. Such knobby, bleached pieces serve as the medium for his stunning, life-size horse sculptures which are taking the Rockland/Rockport/Camden area by storm.
There’s a new herd being seen around the Penobscot Bay region. No, we’re not talking about the famous “Oreo-cookie” Belted Galloway cattle – or “Belties” as they’re affectionately referred to – of Rockport’s Aldermere Farm. We’re referencing a very unique collection of horses that, over the last three years, have cropped up in various Midcoast Maine locations, particularly in the towns of Rockport and Rockland. And as much movement as these equines evoke, with their raised heads and bent legs, they’re actually not mobile at all – unless the 70-something-year-old local who made them decides to relocate them, hoisting the life-size creatures into his truck. That’s because they’re made by the hands of local Rockland artist, Richard Allen, who runs Horse Corner Gallery at the intersection of Route 1 and Pleasant Street, and constructed from found driftwood from local Maine beaches. So why horses, why driftwood as his medium, and why here now?
His Enchantment with Equines
While Allen grew up in Thomaston, Maine, a town that borders Rockland to the south, he moved to California in the 1960s – pursuing a career in art and eventually teaching sculpture at U.C. Davis. It was while he was out west, in 1973, that he began to create his unique statues of steeds made from local driftwood. Naturally, he’s still at it – he guestimates that he’s built more than a couple thousand – but now, it’s just from his native state of Maine, which after 50 years, he returned to in 2015. “Growing up in Maine, we had a family farm, where we had draft horses,” says the now-retiree. “They’re just majestic animals. Man has tried to capture and tame them since the beginning of time. This is kind of my way of doing that, I suppose.”
Materials from Mother Nature
While Allen claims he has no go-to local beaches that he likes to scour, you can expect to see him roving Midcoast stretches of sand from Camden to Bath, like Birch Point on Owls Head and Popham in Phippsburg. “The other day, I was at the Rockland Public Landing, just sitting on a bench taking in the beautiful day, and this guy walks by lugging a beautiful piece of driftwood on his shoulder,” says Allen. “I wanted to shout ‘Hey! Where are you going with that? I could use that!’ but I kept to myself.”
As for what he looks for in a specific piece of wood? “I like pieces with a lot of character and natural movement in them. I also like it when they’re nice and bleached from the sun, but you have to be careful of dry rot, which can result in cracking and powdering of the wood.”
Inside the Process
Working in the backyard of his home, he mines from an inventory of collected wood that he keeps under a tarp and begins assembling an outline of the animal parallel to the ground. “It’s not 3-D at that point, just an outline,” he says. Once he gets that, he uses long screws made of a special aluminum that won’t rust to the secure the piece, and, then, he stands it up. “I like to start adding other knobby driftwood at that point to build the features, but sometimes, it doesn’t look quite right and I have to take it apart and start again. It takes patience to build one of these.” (Two to three weeks is the average time he says it requires to build one six-foot-tall horse.) Once assembled, he coats the finished sculpture in a sealant, so it can withstand the elements wherever it ends up – either public spaces or a yard at someone’s home.
Public Sculptures to Seek Out Locally
In addition to a variety of sculptures – which also include moose – that stand on the lawn of his Horse Corner Gallery in Rockland, you can expect to see a herd of steeds on the grass in front of the Michael Good Gallery in Rockport. If you’re venturing outside of Penobscot Bay, there’s also one located on Route 1 – not far from L.L. Bean – in Freeport, and a couple in a field off 88 South in Cumberland. Ones you probably won’t see? Those purchased by celebrities, such as Clint Eastwood, Goldie Hawn, and Fred Ward, during the time he owned a gallery in Carmel.
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