business profile deerfield designs

Ellicott City firm is fired up over Preakness week

Statues of jockeys are made and decorated for owners of horses in Triple Crown race

May 16, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Most of the time, the small gifted staff of Deerfield Designs in Ellicott City provides custom murals, hand-painted tiles, faux finishes and other one-of-a-kind touches for homes in the Baltimore region.

But every year in early May, the shop, housed in a barn-like building on a leafy cul-de-sac, shifts gears and churns out statues of jockeys. The 9-inch-high statues will be distributed to horse owners at the Alibi Breakfast, a meet-the-press event that takes place tomorrow at Pimlico Race Course, two days before the Preakness Stakes.

The statues, posing majestically atop 3-inch bases painted a rich terra cotta, are hand-painted with the colors the jockeys will wear for the Preakness, the second race in the Triple Crown.

The tradition was started in 1978 by Jean Goldsmith, who was invited to create the jockeys by Chick Lang, general manager of Pimlico at the time.

Goldsmith custom-made a mold and got to work. She still creates the statues, now with the help of daughter Robin Evans, Robin's husband, Todd Evans, and Deerfield Designs staffers James Powers, Jane Walker and Debra Flentje.

On Monday, most of the statues were in various states of completion. Walker was working on two at one time, alternating between a blue and yellow shirt for Street Sense and red for Flying First Class.

The final word on the entrants won't be delivered until today, giving the staff at Deerfield less than 24 hours to complete the statues in time for tomorrow's 9 a.m. breakfast. In the past, as many as seven entrants have been announced the day before the breakfast, said Robin Evans.

Evans said she charges by the statue, though some are easier to paint than others. For jockeys who wear solid-colored silks, or simple, bold designs, the work is relatively simple. But then there are checkerboard designs and complex graphics, all of which are painted by hand.

"If you have one that has diamonds down the sleeves and down the body, it's very difficult," Evans said. "One like that will probably take most of the day."

By February, between 20 and 25 statues are ready to go - molded and fired in a kiln at an elementary school. (Because Deerfield does the statues once a year, the owners decided not to invest in a kiln when their old one died.)

"To get a running start, we do the pants, the boots, the whip and the faces because that's all standard," Evans said. The faces and hair on the statues are not painted to look like the people riding the horses; they are all given short brown hair and peachy skin with a wash of pink along the cheeks.

The colors of the racing silks are the identifying characteristic, and one of the most challenging parts of the job is figuring out the precise colors to use.

The Deerfield staff looks at the graphics of the racing silks in the Preakness program, but those don't show the backs of the shirts. The staff members also comb racing magazines and the Internet, looking for photos. And they keep a record of colors used in the past because many of the major stables submit Preakness horses year after year.

Deerfield is often asked to make more than one statue per horse, to accommodate multiple owners. Nine statues were made for Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, said Todd Evans.

This year, Robin Evans said, the staff had more time than usual because 11 entrants were announced last week. However, three of those horses have scratched. Work on the Teuflesberg statue had been completed, and Starbase was half done, said Robin Evans.

In all the years of creating the statues, Deerfield has had only one major gaffe, neglecting to add chevrons to a shirt. The problem was quickly rectified, Robin Evans said.

The statues, carefully swathed in bubble wrap and packed in boxes, are delivered the morning of the event. Once the statues arrive, they must be affixed with descriptive plaques.

One time, Todd Evans said, the plaques did not have the usual adhesive backing, so he spent several panic-stricken minutes working with epoxy and double-sided tape to get the plaques on the statue bases. But all the last-minute painting and butterflies in the stomach are part of the experience.

Robin Evans was 14 when her mother taught her how to paint the jockeys. Like her mother, she also breeds and races horses, which are kept in Laurel, she said.

"It's an old tradition that my mom started," she said of the statues. "They're fun to do and you get in the sprit."

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