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Vandalized horse has tale to tell

South Surrey artist Marilyn Dyer works on an illustration for a children’s book titled, Tattoo, the Painted Horse. Written by  Summerland author, Ruthie Charles, the book tells the story of how a fibreglass horse sculpture designed by Dyer was vandalized shortly after it was installed in a Brookswood Park. The sculpture has since been repaired and is once again on display, still bearing the scars of its ordeal. - Boaz JOSEPH/Black Press
South Surrey artist Marilyn Dyer works on an illustration for a children’s book titled, Tattoo, the Painted Horse. Written by Summerland author, Ruthie Charles, the book tells the story of how a fibreglass horse sculpture designed by Dyer was vandalized shortly after it was installed in a Brookswood Park. The sculpture has since been repaired and is once again on display, still bearing the scars of its ordeal.
— image credit: Boaz JOSEPH/Black Press

What began last summer as a disturbing and senseless act of destruction is looking more and more like a tale with a happy ending.

The beheading and dismemberment of a fibreglass horse sculpture last July outraged many in the community, when someone took a saw to the work of public art shortly after it was placed in a Brookswood park.

The $10,000 sculpture — part of the Horsing Around Langley initiative — had been painted in swirls of silver, blue, black and green and dubbed “Tattoo.”

But no sooner had Tattoo been fixed in place at the park at 200 Street and 40 Avenue than someone destroyed the fiberglass sculpture, cutting it off at the hooves and removing its head.

The artist, South Surrey’s Marilyn Dyer, said at the time that her disappointment was for the community at large, and not for herself, because she had taken great joy in the creative process, but park users — children in particular — had been cheated out of their enjoyment of the public artwork.

After being told about the damage, Dyer, 81, and her grandchildren visited the park and searched the area for anything that had been missed when the larger pieces were collected and taken to a fibreglass specialist at an autobody shop.

“We put it all back together,” said Dyer.

With its legs bound and head reattached, the life-sized sculpture is back in its place in the park — albeit a little worse for wear.

“It’s got its scars and bumps,” said the artist. “But that’s Tattoo’s journey. That’s his chapter in life — like all of us.

“It’s a really wonderful thing to be part of.”

Now the sculpture’s story is the subject of a children’s book.

Titled Tattoo, the Painted Horse, the volume, aimed at children aged five to 11, is expected to be released during Brookswood Days in June.

It was written by a Summerland author named Ruthie Charles, and looks at the incident from the sculpture’s viewpoint, explained Dyer.

“It tells his story — he is resurrected at the end.”

Charles was in Langley visiting family when she heard about the act of vandalism, explained Dyer.

The story touched her and she decided it needed to be committed to print. Dyer, meanwhile, is working on the drawings that will accompany the text.

Among the vibrant images, which are drawn in coloured pencil, is one that depicts the sculpture with a garland of flowers around its neck and surrounded by playful children — as the artist intended Tattoo to be.

Because there is an educational component to the story, Dyer would like to see the book stocked in schools and libraries.

“It think we have a good opportunity here. I’m willing to do my bit, and Ruthie has too.”

At the time the horse was destroyed, Dyer wondered publicly about the reason anyone would want to commit such a random act of destruction.

“It seems that there are people who just can’t accept that there is something nice in their community.”

In many ways, the horse sculpture’s destruction parallels the experience of being bullied, said the artist.

“It was screwed down, it was mute and vulnerable.

“For me, it’s a lesson for life — we have to watch out for the vulnerable. Bullies come in the night, and the horse couldn’t run.”

Bullies aren’t going to target victims who can fight back, she pointed out.

Coincidentally, Dyer planned to speak to the Brookswood Merchants Association about the restoration on Feb. 26 — Pink Shirt Day — which aims to put an end to bullying.

Ella Little — owner of Ella’s, a clothing boutique which is located across 200 Street from the park — said she reacted with disbelief when she heard about the vandalism.

But she never had a moment’s doubt that the sculpture would be repaired and returned to the park, she added.

“I have great faith in the community that it’s not going to happen again,” she said.

“I think it was an isolated incident — not typical of people.”

Alongside Brookswood Homes and the Brookswood Merchants Association, Ella’s boutique was a major sponsor of the sculpture.

“Public art is important and  it gets shoved aside when budgets are short, but it brings smiles to our faces,” said Little.

And while Tattoo is a beautiful piece art, Little added, thanks to the upcoming book, its impact promises goes beyond making park users happy.

“It is about how the horse feels neglected and abandoned. It’s a great anti-bullying message.”

“(Tattoo’s story) is not finished,” she said. “It’s got a message that it’s going to carry.”

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