Artist Rita Dee enjoyed creating eye-catching steeplechase sculpture
MALTA Housing developers and builders in Saratoga County are always trying to tap into the magic and history of Saratoga Race Course.
One popular way is to pick subdivision and street names that evoke images of the flat track on Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs. Signs and brochures trumpeting such developments and streets usually feature images of thoroughbreds and jockeys. Names such as Furlong Street, Bridle Path and Winners Circle have a familiar ring to fans of the ponies.
Now the developer of a new high-end subdivision in Malta, which is just south of the Spa City, has upped the ante in the race to blend the thrill of Saratoga with the comfort of home.
A group named Albany Partners recently hired a Hudson Valley artist to create a large sculpture of a steeplechase horse and jockey. The sculpture sits prominently at the entrance to the development, which so far has just a model home.
The sculptor of the horse, Rita Dee of Tivoli, Dutchess County, has created quite a buzz with her artistry.
“We love it,” says Darlene Chorman of Coldwell Banker Prime Properties in Saratoga Springs, who is the listing agent for the development. “The first week [the sculpture] was placed, I received about 15 calls — just on the horse — other builders, folks who live in Malta and surrounding areas who travel Route 9. Everybody noticed it.”
When completed, the development will have 21 houses spread out over 25 acres off Route 9. Next to the development is the new 125-acre Malta Nature Preserve. The houses start at $700,000.
“The name of our neighborhood is St. Ledger’s Woods, which is a famous steeplechase race,” says Chorman. “The horse is a symbol of our name, evoking the passion of the race.”
Affinity for horses
The Sunday Gazette caught up with Dee last week to discuss her horse and what went into its making.
Q: Where are you based? How long have you been there?
A: I live in Tivoli, New York, about 50 miles south of Albany. I did grow up in the Saratoga area, so my roots are there. My husband and I live on a small horse farm with our five children and five horses. I am surrounded daily by my subject matter. We have lived here for 30 years.
Q: How were you chosen to do this job? When?
A: I have shown my work for a number of years at the Saratoga National Golf Club and I think that is where Albany Partners had seen my work over the past few years.
Q: Does your work usually involve horses/Saratoga Race Course?
A: My work almost always involves horses, although I do bison also and they can be seen on my Web site. The jumping horse was commissioned by Albany Partners. I had never done anything like this before. I was very nervous about taking on this project at first because it involved a rider as well as a horse that was not standing on the ground. Albany Partners were great to work with, and I am grateful for being pushed to go a little further with the work. I probably would not have tried this had a commission not been requested. Now I am looking forward to more like this in the future.
Q: Did you use a model horse for this job? Did you take a photo or do it in person?
A: I never use a model horse for anything I do. We compete regularly at shows and so seeing horses jumping over fences is a daily occurrence, although a steeplechase horse jumping with a rider at those extreme speeds is a slightly different story than an equitation horse.
I did look at a lot of steeplechase photos as well as any movies I could find with steeplechase scenes. “National Velvet” was the best. Working from life is best, as it gives an energy to the work that may sometimes be lost when strictly using a still photo as your only guide.
Q: How long did it take to complete the horse?
A: It took about nine months from start to finish.
Q: Where did most of the work occur? Did you do any work at the site?
A: All of the construction took place at our farm here, and, of course, the welding for installation was done on site.
Q: What materials did you use?
A: The horse is constructed completely of Hudson River drift wood and the jockey is wire and copper flashing.
Q: How do customers find you?
A: Well, for the summer at Saratoga, Michael Dudley and his wife, Lois, who are the owners at Riverfront Studios in Schuylerville, are representing my work. And my Web site. Riverfront will be exhibiting my work over the summer and Michael can give you a list of other sites around Saratoga where my work can be seen.
Q: Have you ever done a similar project before?
A: No, this was the first time and now I am looking forward to doing other works like this.
Q: Did you watch the Belmont Stakes last weekend? Were you rooting for Big Brown?
A: Yes, I did see the race and I was rooting for him. What a heartbreak.
Q: Will you be going to the track this summer?
A: Yes, of course! We like to go at least once a year to see the horses. We particularly love to go for breakfast and watch the workouts. It is a tradition for us.