SHERIDAN – In 1493, Italian nobles gasped when Leonardo da Vinci unveiled an imposing clay horse at a wedding hosted by the Duke of Milan. They marveled at its height, 24 feet. But that was just a preview of the final bronze sculpture. For a statue commissioned by the Duke in 1482, da Vinci spent 11 years studying horses, drawing and brainstorming innovative techniques to achieve his vision, according to information available on the da Vinci Science Center website.
But war threatened and French soldiers invaded Milan in 1499. The bronze of the sculpture was taken to make cannons. French archers weren’t as impressed with the model and used it as a target. Time reduced what remained to rubble. Da Vinci never returned to the project and died in 1519 without realizing his vision.
In August 2015, the people of Sheridan marveled as Italian nobles had centuries before at the unveiling of da Vinci’s own 8-foot version of the horse. But how was the horse finished? And how did Sheridan get one of the five sculptures ever made?
The modern history of da Vinci’s Horse begins in 1977, according to the da Vinci Science Center website, with retired airline pilot Charles Dent. Dent read a National Geographic article titled “The Horse That Never Was” detailing the discovery of Leonardo da Vinci’s old notebooks containing the drawings of the sculpture. A lover of Renaissance art, Dent founded the non-profit organization da Vinci’s Horse Inc. and collaborated with myriad scholars, artists, and organizations to bring Da Vinci’s vision to life. Like da Vinci, Dent died before the sculpture was completed. His family took over the project.
The family hired sculptor Nina Akamu to complete the design and casting. According to Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of the da Vinci Science Center, Dent designed the horse with an 8-foot model, planning to move to da Vinci’s 24-foot designs. However, the details weren’t to scale and Akamu had to redesign the horse once again.
“There was a lot of discussion about all of Leonardo’s designs to decide which he would have envisioned the most,” Erickson said.
Finally, in 1999, the 24-foot sculpture was completed and dedicated in Milan.
Other horses were completed and placed in various areas, including the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan; an 8-foot sculpture in Vinci, Italy, Leonardo’s birthplace; and at the Baum School of Art and the da Vinci Science Center in Dent’s hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Kim Love said the idea of adding Leonardo da Vinci’s horse to the downtown Sheridan collection came about while he was taking an art class at Sheridan College. Love, the chairman of the public arts committee, was also looking for new pieces to present when he read the history of the sculpture in class.
“We thought da Vinci’s horse was stylistically a bit different and would be a great signature piece,” Love said.
After some googling and redirected calls, Love connected with Erickson. Love secured funding through the Wyoming Community Foundation and several local sponsors while Erickson collaborated with designers and foundries.
“There was no flaw in the service and expertise to bring the project to fruition,” Erickson said. “There were so many details to execute the project, but there were a lot of good people doing the job.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on August 20, 2015, outside the Downtown Sheridan Association building at 121 S. Main St. as part of the 3rd Thursday Street Festival. Erickson, Love and Dent’s nephew Peter Dent spoke at the unveiling.
“We consider it special that Sheridan has a sculpture. It speaks to the community’s commitment to the arts,” Erickson said.
“It’s interesting how Leonardo found connections where everyone else would miss them,” said Caroline Scutt, director of communications and community relations for the da Vinci Science Center. “Here we are 500 years after his death, and he connected Sheridan, Wyoming to Allentown, Pennsylvania and Italy.”