Home on the range

By Helen Frances

Five clydesdales have emerged from a Chinese foundry to join a pack of wolves at Sir Michael Hill's sculpture park, writes Helen Frances

The iron horses are designed to fit into the landscape at Sir Michael Hill's Central Otago golf course. Photo / Trey Ratcliff
The iron horses are designed to fit into the landscape at Sir Michael Hill's Central Otago golf course. Photo / Trey Ratcliff

Five colossal iron clydesdales have joined the array of sculptures adorning Sir Michael Hill's golf course and sculpture park in Queenstown. Sir Richard Taylor, of Weta Workshop, will unveil the horses at the seventh hole at The Hills tomorrow.

Wellington-based sculptor Max Patte, who designed the horses, heads the sculpture department at Weta and runs his own business. He began conceptual work for the commission two years ago when Hill approached him for another work. His sculpture of an arching male figure, Solace in the Wind, on Wellington's waterfront, also graces Hill's golf course.

After working through several concepts with Hill that included 16 rugged gold mining figures (considered "a bit too Iron Curtain" by the client) and a stag's head and figures striding across the landscape, Patte says Hill decided on a group of horses that looked natural in the surroundings.

Patte chose clydesdales because of their impressive size, "boxiness and nice dynamic feet", characteristics that suit his sculpting style.

He says clydesdales are quite static animals, "they don't prance around much and have a certain grace, moving in unison almost like synchronised swimmers". The chunky horses also fit well within the immense Central Otago landscape.

Patte has positioned the horses to suggest a narrative between them. Two of them standing close together could be a pair, he says, while the other three could be a couple of stallions nuzzling a mare.

How the five 2.6m high horses were made is another story. Patte wanted to make them particularly large so they would not be dominated by the wide vistas of mountains, hills and rolling plains from Hill's 60ha property. The only limit was the size of the shipping container bringing them from a foundry in Beijing where they were cast. No New Zealand foundry could take on the job.

Patte had seen The Wolves Are Coming, a 111-piece sculpture that slinks over the 18th fairway at the golf course since Hill brought the work from China in 2011. The initial idea to make unlimited horse replicas with interchangeable body parts was dropped when the Beijing foundry said there would be too much distortion in the casting process. However, the group of clydesdales, scaled up from Patte's digitally scanned maquettes, duly emerged.

Patte spent months travelling between New Zealand and Beijing, tweaking the horses as they changed through the enlarging process. "I started off having huge, conceptual manes wrapping around them and cut those back to be fairly minimal."

He also flicked molten plasticine around the feet during a stage in the mould-making to make it look as if they had been stamping in the mud, thus adding to the surface texture.

The horses were made through the lost wax process in which several different kinds of moulds are made in stages to provide the final crucible form into which molten iron is poured. A hollow sculpture is created, which uses less material and is lighter - if around one and half tonnes of iron in each beast could be classed as light.

The horses were cast in segments, then welded together in the largest sculpture made by the foundry.

"The inside of the foundry is like some Dickensian scene," Patte says. "The noise and smell was incredible. It was quite a moment walking into the foundry and seeing the [first] horse standing there among all that."

British-born Patte trained in fine art at Wimbledon College of Art where he learned traditional techniques, figurative carving and some foundry work. He worked for 10 years in the film industry there, where he added to his technical skills.

"At 19 I didn't have the ideas to put out there - I just wanted to learn the techniques. It wasn't really until I moved to New Zealand that I started doing work for myself."

- NZ Herald

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