Holly Johnson mixed her Kentucky roots with her love of the beach when she designed her horse for Horse Mania, in Lexington, Kentucky.
Horse Mania is a public art project where artists design and decorate 6-foot-tall fiberglass horses to go on display all over Lexington. The first Horse Mania in 2000 was a big hit, so the organizers decided to repeat the display, picking 82 new horse designs out of 450 artist entries.
Magoffin County native Holly Johnson, now living in Pensacola Beach, Florida, designed and submitted three different horses, with the design “A Horse of a Different Shell” being chosen and sponsored by the Headley-Whitney Museum, on Old Frankfort Pike.
Johnson graduated from Magoffin County High School, then received her Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis of painting and photography from the University of Kentucky. She was in college in Lexington the first time they had Horse Mania, so she said she knew she wanted to participate if they ever decided to have it again.
She wanted her horse to reflect her. She was born and raised in Salyersville, but always had a love for the beach, where she now lives. She is engaged to true “beach boy,” giving her stronger ties to the beach.
“The ‘salt life’ is such a part of me, just like art and beautiful horses in Kentucky,” Johnson said. “What a way to cover all aspects of me – a horse bred in Kentucky covered in seashells!”
Covering a fiberglass horse in seashells, coral, sand dollars and starfish proved to be a hard job, Johnson said.
The horse had to be able to withstand the weather, as well as gravity. She said she spent a lot of time trying to find out what to use to adhere the elements of the horse, discussing the problem with her dad (a carpenter), people at a car body shop, a man who does custom tile, as well as another artist. Some of the shells were large in size, so regular glue was not going to work. She finally discovered a three-step solution, involving marine grade caulk, tile adhesive via a cake decorating bag, and sugar white sand from a Florida beach.
After she found the medium that would keep those shells hanging on no matter how much it rained, she said she kicked it into gear. She reached out to her loved ones, asking friends and family to send favorite sea shells they had gathered and loved to make the piece have more meaning.
On Mother’s Day, her mother, along with other Salyersville locals Johnson calls her “extended family,” Pat Frazier, Bekah and Trey Rudd and Pat (Dodie) Arnett went on a shell finding mission, scanning all along the west coast of Florida.
To fill the rest of the horse, she ordered the bulk of the shells online, bringing the total number to well over 3,000 shells.
Seashells and marine grade caulk are not Johnson’s usual medium, however. She usually works in pastel, acrylic, watercolor and photography. Since she is a pain specialist sales rep in pharmaceutical and medical sales and an artist for fun, she does not have a studio. She pushed back her furniture and decorated HOD in the living room, with her little Shih Tzu, Ruby, “helping,” staying up late with her and stealing the exceptionally pretty shells to lay on.
After three weeks of working night and day, “A Horse of a Different Shell,” affectionately referred to as HOD, was completed, but still in the wrong town.
Johnson said the hardest and most stressful part, aside from choosing a medium, was transporting HOD. They loaded the more than 300-pound horse in the back of her fiancé’s F350 and brought HOD to Kentucky.
In her artist statement, Johnson said, “Although she was only here for a short time, HODS had her fun in the sun, eating sea oats and even left a few hoof prints in the sand. Now she is back where she belongs in the middle of the Bluegrass at the Headley-Whitney Museum, overlooking the greenest, most gorgeous farms in the world.”
Now in her place, HOD sits in the lawn of the Headley-Whitney Art Museum. Johnson said she wants people to spend time, looking at the different shells and picking their favorites.
HOD will be on display at the museum until October, then it will be auctioned off on December 11.
Holly Johnson’s parents, Wayne and Nola Johnson, as well as her grandparents J.T. and Betty Lykins and Evenell Johnson still live in Magoffin County.