Marion local artist Belinda Skiles has an exhibit on display until Oct. 31 in El Dorado on the third floor of the Coutts Memorial Museum of Art.
The Skiles exhibit is called “The Wire Horse.” It includes about 23 ornate horse sculptures she handcrafted by manipulating discarded baling wire.
“Each horse is unique,” Skiles said. “The framework and the body are never the same. I can’t duplicate them exactly because of the length of the strand and how the wire is cut.”
In general, she begins a sculpture by creating a rough wire frame, then loops and twists more wire around it until she finds the horse’s final form.
Skiles said she doesn’t like to cut the wire unless she absolutely needs to. She shapes majority of the wire primarily by hand, except for when she uses needle-nose-pliers to make a crease at the end of a length.
“I follow the wire in a way,” Skiles said. “It gets a memory each time you bend it and becomes harder to twist. Sometimes it wants to kink, go its own direction, or do what it wants.”
Even though she sometime cuts herself on the sharp ends of the wire, she doesn’t like to use gloves because she loses dexterity and can’t feel the wire as well.
‘My hands aren’t as strong,” Skiles said. “Manipulating the wire also aggravates the arthritis in my hands, so I have to take breaks.”
Her freeform approach to sculpting results in abstract designs that she said are somewhat random. Thereby each horse is idiosyncratic in disposition and posture.
“The wire is unruly,” Skiles said. “It flies all over when I work.”
However, she often has a specific pose in mind when she sets into a sculpture.
“I make pacers, trotters, standing horses, grazers, some walk, trot, or canter,” Skiles said. “I also made one rearing horse that I had to display with a rock because I couldn’t get it to stand up on its own.”
She said the balancing process of freestanding sculpture is a tricky one. Each time she adds a wire to a sculpture it redistributes the weight so she has to check as she goes how each wire horse will rest on a flat surface.
It takes wire from approximately seven to ten hay bales and at least eight hours of studio time to finish a medium sized sculpture, she said.
Her wire horses vary in size. Many of her sculptures are around about 12-inches tall by 16 inches long but some of the larger ones can get up to three-feet long and two-feet tall.
Skiles also takes inspiration from different horse breeds and works their characteristics into her different pieces.
“Arabian type bodies have a flying tail and mane,” she said. “A quarter-horse has longer tail that droops.”
Skiles has been a horse lover ever since she was child. She said she has always been fascinated with the way they move, act, and generally are.
“There were maybe five years in my entire life I have not had horses,” Skiles said. “I have always had an interest in riding.”
Skiles said she has always done sketches of horses, and aside from one pottery class, she has never had any art lessons.
An invitation to exhibit
Skiles said she was invited to exhibit her sculptures at the Coutts Memorial Museum of Art by a volunteer on the museum board, when she opened her house up to the public on the Marion Home Tour last year near Christmas.
“A woman named Terri Scott came through from El Dorado with some friends and asked me where I had gotten the wire horse I used with a sleigh as a decoration,” Skiles said. “I told her I had made it and then she asked me if I would be willing to do an exhibit, give a talk, and maybe put some up for sale.”
Skiles agreed. Scott then took her phone number. However, Skiles did not hear from her until she ran in to her at a garden center in El Dorado in April during a snowstorm.
“It was a coincidence we met again because there were only eight or nine people there,” Skiles said. “She asked me again if I was willing to do it and I agreed.”
Skiles wire horses have been on exhibit at the Coutts Memorial Museum of Art since August and will be there until the end of October.
Through her connections in the American Endurance Ride Conference, her horse sculptures have been commissioned as ride prizes for equestrian events across the Midwest.
“They were auctioned off to help with building and rebuilding trail programs,” Skiles said. “Riders from Nevada, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, and of course Kansas have them in their homes.”
She also has taken orders for people who wanted to give her horses as wedding gifts.
Skiles said she generally starts commission prices at $90 and up.