Painted stallions stampeding into Scottsdale for charity

This is an example of the life-sized horses that will be painted by invited artists and auctioned off by the Rotary Club of Scottsdale Foundation to raise money for charities. (Courtesy of Charlie Kester)

What’s more western for the West’s Most Western Town than horses?

A stampede of Arabian stallions is heading for town and it’s not part of the Arabian Horse Show at West World – though the show is the title sponsor of the event.

The life-size stallions – 36 of them in all – are made of fiberglass. They will be painted by local artists and put on display in Scottsdale’s Old Town, Fashion Square and the Waterfront before they are auctioned off for charity.

Charles Kester, who masterminded the project for the Rotary Club of Scottsdale Foundation hopes to make $300,000 from the auction during the first year of the program, though he’s hoping to improve that total to as much as $1 million in the future.

“It’s a community celebration of the arts,” Kester said. “It benefits the people who get to view the art. It benefits the artists in that they get exposure and for some people who are starting out, they get a chance to make some money. It benefits area businesses because it creates foot traffic and it helps the city as a whole because it kind of reinforces the concept of place.”

The horses – portrayed in a variety of poses ranging from rearing to grazing – will arrive in town in October. Local artists will then be selected to paint them in “everything from realistic to fanciful,” by December. Besides the name recognition, artists will also get 20% of the proceeds from the auction of the horse they worked on.

Once the horses are completed – including a cover of automotive clear coat to protect the paint – they will be leased to local companies for three months for $10,000. There will be downloadable maps identifying the “stampede trail” and possibly a scavenger hunt.

“The horses will be stampeding around Scottsdale from the second week in January through March,” Kester said.

The horses will be auctioned on April 15 at Royal Arabians equestrian training and breeding facility. Forty percent of the proceeds from each horse will go to a charity chosen by the business that leased it and the remaining 40% will go to the Rotary Club of Scottsdale Foundation to fund various charities.

The event will also have two paintings of horses showcased. The first will be by local artist Niki Woehler at the Scottsdale Fashion Square.

“I want him to be a glamorous stallion with black and white, gold and silver, with perhaps some mirror ball on his hooves and tail,” said Woehler, who owns Niki Woehler Gallery in town.

Painting one of the horses will be a new experience for Woehler.

“The way I paint, everything has to be flat so this is definitely going to be a challenge,” she said.

The second live painting exhibit will be held at the Museum of the West, though the artist has not yet been selected.

The Rotary Club of Scottsdale Foundation has been recognized as a partner by the Scottsdale Super Bowl planning committee and at least one horse will feature the Super Bowl LVII logo.

Experience Scottsdale Executive Director Rachel Sacco said its purpose to fund charities and shine a spot light on the arts Scottsdale is so famous for, is a perfect blend for the city.

“We think that anything that helps the community, helps charities, helps branding Scottsdale in a positive light and creates a great experience for visitors is worth supporting,” she said.

The concept isn’t new. Kester got the idea from growing up in Seattle in the 1980s and 90s. The Emerald City had the same sort of program called Pigs on Parade.

“There were as many as 200 brightly colored, funny pigs – funny to I guess beautiful, if you can have a beautiful pig, all around the city,” Kester said. “It was really this fun, fun thing. Three months of the pigs being on display culminated in the Parade of Pigs down Seattle’s Fifth Avenue … and then after the parade they would have an auction where some of the pigs were auctioned for as much as $50,000, $60,000.”

Other cities have similar programs like Chicago, which hosts painted cows, Anchorage and Los Altos, Calif., which displays bears and St. Louis with it’s hearts.

Similar programs are also in Europe and the United Kingdom, Kester said. Woehler, who grew up in Victoria, British Columbia said her mother, who is also an artist, painted an orca for that city’s parade when Woehler was a child.

Kester said a program featuring horses was ideal for Scottsdale.

“The equestrian community is getting excited about this and getting behind it,” Kester said. “The people at West World have been very supportive, as have been the people at the City of Scottsdale … because they see it fitting with Western Week.”

But it’s more than that, Kester said.

“Everyone sees the car shows here but Scottsdale is also one of the centers of the equestrian world,” he said. “People fly their horses in from South America for the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. We have Barrett-Jackson, of course, but equestrian minded people are just as passionate about horses as the Barrett- Jackson people are about cars or the TPA guys are about golf.”

Artists interested in painting one of the horses can go to for more information and to apply.

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