The Appleton Museum of Art’s equine art collection spans more than 3,000 years of history from around the world. Just as Ocala is genuinely heralded and officially designated as the Horse Capital of the World, horses and equine art are part of the College of Central Florida museum’s ancestral and historical roots.
It’s hard to believe how quickly two decades have galloped by since 2001’s Horse Fever public art project leapt onto the local art scene. Spearheaded by the Marion Cultural Alliance, with assistance from the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ & Owners’ Association, the large, colorful herd of more than 50 horse sculptures came to life and populated downtown and the surrounding area, including one at the Appleton: Journey, by artist Brenda Flynn. As success breeds success, Horse Fever is returning to Ocala in testament of the area’s lifeblood.
Arthur I. Appleton (1915-2008) and his wife Martha Appleton (née O’Driscoll, 1922-1998), bought their rambling Ocala property in the 1970s and established the 1,600-acre Bridlewood Farm (1976) as a premiere thoroughbred breeding and training facility that successfully continues today under new ownership. Since the Appleton Museum of Art opened just 11 years later, it is easy to recognize and highlight how horses and equine art became pillars of the institution.
Ranging from Eurasian Steppe Bronze Age horse-bridle bits to eighth century Chinese mortuary tomb sculptures to 19th century European oil paintings to contemporary photography and sculptures, the museum’s equine art collections are particularly notable for the breadth of historical materials and varied media.
Horses are indeed fascinating and awe inspiring. We frequently field such questions as: What is the history of the domestication of the horse for agricultural needs? What roles do horses play in military and police maneuvers? Or, simply, how did horses come to be so important that September’s fan-less Kentucky Derby track was impacted by COVID-19 in such a way that the Nasdaq-traded Churchill Downs Inc. investment strategies also were influenced?
As a community, our love of and interest in horses is championed by many vital organizations and encompasses the promotion of our equine population in many forms, including various art forms. Recently, the horse industry welcomed a new collaborative partnership, the Ocala Horse Alliance, a group focused on the collective needs and possibilities ever present in the equine industry.
As the Appleton Museum of Art’s director, I am so lucky to have unbridled access to rare museum artifacts that document the wide range of human-horse relationships—riding, hunting, racing and farming, to name just a few. Equine art is art for all as it is accessible to everyone given the long tenure of our horse-human relationship. The Appleton family entrusted an internationally renowned collection to the Appleton Museum team to steward. I look forward to welcoming you back soon into the Appleton fold to enjoy the collections, especially our exhibition from the permanent collection showcasing equine-centric art and objects.
Visit www.appletonmuseum.org for more information and online offerings. Appleton Museum of Art, 4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd., (352) 291-4455.