When I first picked up a Book in my local library called Phar Lap I was not sure what to expect. I knew very little about the New Zealand born Horse called Phar Lap (also known as the “Red Terror”) who became Australia’s most famous Racehorse. By the end of the book I was in tears. It is such a sad ending but also one that filled me with anticipation and desire to join a Club for Teenagers called “The Junior Phar Lap Club” run by the VRC Victoria Racing Club of Australia.
The double page image below is from a Horse Book given to me by a School friend called Janet. As a Teenager I created a Soft Sculpture version of Phar Lap using this and other photos I had seen.
The Inspiration and Imitation Image below is made using a special photo I’ll talk about a bit further down the page.
Who was Phar Lap and what was so special about him? Well I could fill an entire book and create a Movie dedicated to his life and Racing career but there is no need because both exist already. A shorter version is this:
2 year old: 5 Races = 1 x 1st & 4 x Unplaced
3 year old: 20 Races = 13 x 1st, 1 x 2nd, 2 x 3rd and 4 x Unplaced
4 year old: 16 Races = 14 x 1st, 2 x 2nd (including 1st in the 1930 Melbourne Cup)
5 year old: 10 Races = 9 x 1st and 1 x Unplaced (i.e. Unplaced in the 1931 Melbourne Cup)
Phar Lap was an amazing Race Horse often compared to the American Champion “Man O’ War”. Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup in 1930. After the 1931 Melbourne Cup race Phar Lap’s owner decided to race him overseas in the USA. His only race was at Agua Caliente. Phar Lap died suddenly (about a week later) under what some thought were mysterious circumstances but may have been a simple case of Colic. It may sound gruesome to some but being the ‘National Treasure’ that he was his memory was immortalised and he is housed at the National Museum in Melbourne, Victoria Australia. To put that more clearly when he died a taxidermy model was created of him by American Taxidermist (brothers) Louis Paul, Leslie and John Jonas of New York. His Skeleton was also preserved in the Dominion Museum, Wellington New Zealand. His large (6.4 kg) heart (although there is still rumour that it is actually the heart of a draught/draft horse) is housed at the Institute of Anatomy in Canberra, ACT Australia.
Many years after I made my model Phar Lap, while passing through Melbourne in December 1980 with friends I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum in Melbourne. I was so excited I couldn’t stop talking about Phar Lap (recounting everything I remembered from reading books) and saying how beautiful and amazing he was for the rest of the afternoon. It was privileged to see Phar Lap and I was so glad that the effort had been made to make it possible for people like me to see him literally in the ‘flesh’. My friend took a photo for me that I later forgot all about. A year later he gave me the most wonderful surprise: a copy of the photo with a message on the back. It is a treasured keepsake in my Photo Album.
My model of Phar Lap was made in using a similar process as that described on my Papier Mâché Page except this time fabric was stretched over the wire armature instead of paper being glued on.
Perhaps you would like to watch this short video:
I have always been interested in anatomy as far as it related to Taxidermy that is. So I referred to several drawings and even hoped to one day own a model horse like the one I had seen in a magazine. I still have the clipping.
The notion of Taxidermy does not repulse me especially in the case of natural or accidental death or death from a road injury. Taxidermy for scientific reasons is a ‘grey’ area for me but I can see some merits from the point of view of a visual record for historical reasons & purposes. I am not as keen on the idea if an animal was killed merely for sport or to obtain a trophy as is the case of some Hunting Trophies. One reason Taxidermy doesn’t bother me is because my Mum used to collect (not too badly damaged) “road kill” (i.e. an animal or bird killed by being hit by a motor vehicle). I made a rather cryptic comment on my Ceramics Page about items stored in the large Refrigerator (actually more specifically it was a two door Fridge/Freezer)…..let’s just say: there were many frozen potential taxidermy specimens in the Freezer waiting to be processed either as skeletons, stuffed/mounted models or resin castings. More about them at some stage on my Collections Page!
In hindsight I had a very unusual yet interesting childhood full of many artistic learning experiences!