BEACON, N.Y. - Artist Rod Skidmore commutes halfway to New York City every week to oversee what he believes will be the next Statue of Liberty.
Here in this town on the banks of the Hudson River, the 64-year-old painter is coordinating the re-creation of a lost - and unfinished - Renaissance masterpiece: Leonardo da Vinci's 24-foot-tall horse, which was destroyed by French soldiers nearly 500 years ago.
The aim of the volunteer group - known as Leonardo da Vinci's Horse Inc. - is to donate the horse to the Italian people as a goodwill gesture and a tribute to da Vinci, says Skidmore, the project's artistic director.
The American-made statue is scheduled to be unveiled in Milan on Sept. 10, 1999, 500 years after Louis XII ordered the invasion of the Italian city. Formal acceptance of the gift came in January in a letter from Milan Mayor Gabriele Albertini.
"I lie awake at nights thinking about the awesome responsibility of this horse; I don't take it lightly by any means," said Skidmore, who lives in Greenville, N.Y.
"In a lot of ways, being that it is a gift and all, it is like the Statue of Liberty," Skidmore said, referring to France's famous gift to the United States.
Started in 1977
The daunting project was first launched in 1977 in Fogelsville, Pa., by Charles C. Dent, a retired airline pilot, artist and art collector who had a passion for Renaissance art.
For the next 17 years Dent dedicated his life to building the horse and setting up a $3.2 million nonprofit corporation to fund the project. But he did not live to the see the work through to completion.
He died in late 1994 at the age of 77 and Skidmore, who also spent 14 years on the project, has been directing the work since.
History has it that da Vinci was commissioned in 1482 to design and build a huge horse, which would have been the largest equestrian statue in the world. He worked on the project for 16 years and built a full-scale model that was to be cast in bronze.
But work was halted on the project with the outbreak of war with France. And in 1499, after the French occupied Milan, French soldiers used the model for archery practice, ultimately destroying it.
According to da Vinci's biographers, the Renaissance artist never got over the destruction of the horse, and lamented its loss all the way to his deathbed.
"We're simply doing the horse to the best of our ability," Skidmore said. "We couldn't duplicate what da Vinci could have done, but we're just doing the best we can to fulfill this dream."
Final work on the modern-day version of the horse is taking shape here at the 85,000-square-foot Tallix Foundry, creation site of the Korean War and Franklin Delano Roosevelt monuments now in Washington.
Workers at Tallix, using sophisticated drawings and an enlarging device known as a pantograph, are in the process of completing a 24-foot-tall plaster and clay model from which bronze casting will be done.
Separate parts of the horse are being enlarged under the watchful eye of Nina Akamu, whom Skidmore unabashedly calls "the world's best sculptor." The 20th-century version will weigh 12 tons, not 40 like da Vinci's would have, owing to stainless steel tubing for the structure.
The cost of the project is expected to exceed $6 million, according to Milan J. Kralik Jr., a spokesman for Leonardo da Vinci's Horse Inc. and member of its trustee board.
Kralik, an English teacher and sculptor who lives near the organization's main headquarters in Pennsylvania, said Il Cavallo, as Italians refer to da Vinci's lost clay horse, is regarded as one of the Renaissance's lost gems. He noted that most contributions for the project have come from Americans.
"When Charlie died, he left a valuable art collection to LVDHI, which got us started," said Kralik, referring to Leonardo da Vinci's Horse Inc.
In December, the project also received an anonymous gift of $675,000, he said.
Pub Date: 2/16/98