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Mustangs of Las Colinas Receive a Makeover

Photo by John Starkey

Irving—Williams Square in Las Colinas features the Mustangs of Las Colinas, a sculpture of nine majestic mustangs running through a river. The sculpture, whichisthe largest equestrian sculpture in the world, is getting a complete makeover. Designed by artist Robert “Rob” Glen, the sculpture is made of bronze, but the patina turned a greenish color over time because of oxidation.

The sculpture is an iconic symbol for Las Colinas and even the city of Irving. As part of a $7.8 million investment to renovate Williams Square, the horses are being restored and elevated. The project’s mission is to make the square more family-friendly. In the future, it will act as a gathering place for concerts and other outdoor events.

“Not too long ago, my good friend and engineer-in-charge of the installation of the horses, who is with DCURD [Dallas CountyUtility and Reclamation District] in Las Colinas, Jacky Knox, wrote asking what I thought [about] making the plaza a more people-friendly place to be,” Glensaid.“I readily agreed, and he asked if I would jot down an idea on a piece of paper. I did this in the form of a small painting with the buildings outlined and sent it to him. Later, he gave the painting to the company selected to carry out the changes. The company’s artists then made a phenomenal design, which is now under construction. When complete, it will really be fantastic, andI am honored that such an effort is taking place.

“With the changes happening to the plaza, it was my thought we might also work on the revitalization of the horses. This means re-oxidizing the color to its original tone and sealing the surfaces again with wax. It is a natural process,as the surfaces of the horses have slowly changed color with oxidization caused by weather over the years. [This is] a big operation and the foundry team carrying out the work is going along very well.”

“It’sa sandblasting process,” Don LeGrand with Schaefer Art Bronze Casting out of Arlington, which is doing the restoration, said. “We sandblast the old paint off to get [the sculptures] down to bare metal.The green [color] is oxidation, so it’ll be back to a French brown, [which] is the color they selectedand is the same one that was originally chosen.

“Schaefer did repairs on these horses a long, long time back.They’ve talked to [Glen] about what color and type of patina to put on,” LeGrandsaid. “It’s neat to restore them back to what they originally were.

“The weather can change the color, so [ideally] you need to do them all at the same time. If you did one [horse], and then it went through a rainstorm, the next one wouldn’t look the same. The process for one horse is normally about a day.

“At the shop, we normally don’t do this many at one time, so it’s kind of a new process. We’ve also repaired some cracks and [things from the] freeze that have happened over time. As we find things, we fix them before we put on the patina.”

“During the entire progress of the plaza developments, I have been kept [informed] of all aspects, especially regarding the horses,” Glen said.“What is being carried out is impressive to say the least.”

He explained the process to get from the design of the mustangs to the sculpture’s installation in 1984.

“When I was asked to make the horses, it was a huge challenge, and I had no idea at the time what an undertaking it was to be,” Glen said.“From [the] start to the completion of the installation, the mustangs were my entire lifefor eight and a half years. This project also took over many nights as well.

“I not only made two separate small-scale models to [convey] my design, but then made the full-sized originals, half larger than life, with two tons of clayon each horse with my own two hands. I employed two assistants to help with carrying out the arduous job of manes and tails. The casting in bronzes was carried out in England, and then all the finished bronzes were flown to Dallas by a 747 aircraft.

“My vision of the horsesoriginated from Ben Carpenter, who wanted a monument with wild horses as a symbol of freedom to be the centerpiece in his new development of Las Colinas.

“In the beginning of my design of the horses and their river crossing,I made a scale model in my studioin Nairobi, Kenya, Ben [Carpenter] flew out from Dallas for one night and brought Jim Reeves with SWA, which was the architect of the plaza and buildings,” Glen said.“The plaza paving stones would match the three surrounding buildings, making an abstract effect and amplifying the horses at the center.

“I had known Ben for a long time as he had purchased some of my work. It soon became evident wild horses in America today bear no resemblance to the wild horses in America during those early colonial times. Today’s wild horses are a mix of many breeds, whilst the horses of old were Andalusian horses, brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors.

“These, therefore, are the horses I chose.I spent quite some time in Spain, studying this breed. These Spanish imports were the first horses the indigenous people of that time hadfrom the escaped horses that roamed free. This is what brought about the title of the monument, which is ‘A Symbol of Freedom.’

“This idea worked in all ways, except that over a number of years, it became obvious that although impressive, due to the Texas climate in the summer months, visitors who came to take photos and walk about a little didn’t stay long due to the heat reflected off the surrounding granite,” he said. “The plaza improvements should help fix that.”

The plaza also features the Mustang Museum, which was built soon after the horses were installed.

“The museum has been since the installation of the horses the most important addition to the larger story of the overall concept of the plaza,” Glen said. “During the entire process from beginning to installation, Ben Carpenter had a movie crew and a still photographer recording every aspect of the development. This material, plus many relevant scale models, were made into the story, and is on display in the [Mustang Museum’s] movie theater, showing the entire making of the monument. This has been a highly visited and well-liked addition, as most have no idea what was involved in making such a monument.”

“I am the museum guide [at the Mustang Museum] and have been since 2004. I love it,”Mary Higbie said.

“I think the Mustang Museum provides an opportunity for visitors to ‘know the rest of the story’ through the exhibit and the film shown about the making of the monument. Ben Carpenter had a vision for Las Colinas that was well thought out and every detail carefully considered. This, plus the artistic detail by sculptor Robert Glen, together created this magnificent piece of art that is known and sought out by others from around the world,and we have it in our own backyard. I cannot even begin to guess how many international visitors we have had plus so many from every state in the U.S.

“One of my favorite photos shows the horses being loaded into a Pan American cargo plane. I learned recently that former Mayor Dan Matkin happened to be at the London airport on the day they were loading the 17-ton sculpture to be shipped to America. They were shipped from London to New York and then transferred to American Airlines to bring them to DFW.”

The Mustang Museum is temporarily closed for renovations as is Williams Square itself. The project is scheduled to be completed in early 2022.