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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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It Happened Here: Chewelah artist’s herd has watched over travelers for 30 years

“Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies” sits on a bluff above the Columbia River near Vantage. (Donald W. Meyers / Yakima Herald-Republic)
“Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies” sits on a bluff above the Columbia River near Vantage. (Donald W. Meyers / Yakima Herald-Republic)
By Donald W. Meyers Yakima Herald-Republic

On a bluff above the Columbia River across from Vantage is what appears to be a herd of horses caught in mid gallop.

While the sign at the rest area below the horses calls it the Wild Horse Monument, the installation’s actual name is “Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies,” a sculpture by Chewelah artist David Govedare. It has stood watch over Interstate 90 and the Columbia for nearly 30 years.

And, while regarded by some as Washington’s most viewed sculpture, it is also unfinished. The artist is seeking support to complete his vision of a Native American-style creation story.

Govedare was commissioned to make the sculpture in 1989 as part of the statehood centennial.

It was approved by Grant County’s centennial committee and the state Department of Transportation, which provided land for the artwork.

The original design called for horses galloping out of a tipped-over basket. In interviews, Govedare said the sculpture was to represent the Great Spirit giving the gift of life, in the form of horses, to the earth.

In a 2017 interview with The Seattle Times, Govedare said, “Horses were the engine of economy, of war, of everything.”

The woven basket, Govedare said, represents creation, with humans, deer, eagles and salmon depicted on the design. It is meant to be a celebration of the positive nature of the universe and humanity’s joy at being a part of it.

The work also represents a sense of freedom, as the horses choose to go where they want as they became free.

Each life-size horse weighs 1,000 pounds – sturdy enough for people to climb on them. The initial installation of 16 horses cost $65,000, but money ran out before the 12-ton basket from which they were running was built.

Attempts to finance the completion of the sculpture did not meet with much success. Critics also said the tipped basket looked more like a satellite dish.

Even in its incomplete state, it is still a well-known landmark on the drive from Spokane to Seattle. And if you don’t mind a mile-long hike up steep terrain, you can get a close-up view of the horses, as well as stunning views of the Columbia River.

Unfortunately, vandals have also made their way up there, “embellishing” the horses with graffiti.

But Govedare is not giving up. He’s started an online effort to raise $1 million to complete the sculpture. To learn more about his effort or to contribute, go to https://www.fundthebasket.com.

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