Horse sense, history and hammering led to a mural that pays tribute to the legacy of those people responsible for a Millarville institution.
Metal artist Michael Perks’ Legacy Wall was unveiled at the Millarville Racetrack on Aug. 13. It honours the past presidents, donors and volunteers who have contributed to the Millarville Racing and Agricultural Society.
The legacy mural was the brainchild of Bill Jackson, who has been a three-term president with the society and served as a director for 16 years.
“I thought of doing something like this about eight or nine years ago,” Jackson said in an interview. “This (the wall) absolutely couldn’t be better.”
The Millarville racetrack was opened in the early 1900s. It later amalgamated with the ag society in 1973.
Perks is an award-winning metal artist whose shop Little Monkey Metalworks is in Foothills County. He ironically got his start when selling his wares at the famed Millarville Farmers’ Market at the racetrack.
Highlights of the 30-foot-wide and seven-foot-tall wall are four horses, two of which are 3D.
“The cherries on the pie are the running horse and the heavy horse,” Perks said. “What I am known for as an artist is bringing warmth to an inherently cold object like metal.”
There is plenty of warmth in the two horses. The 3D bodies of the horses are made of metal cut-outs of the names of the presidents, families and volunteers who made the society possible.
“That is the great part about my art, you can go up and touch it, unlike an oil painting,” Perks said. “Please touch.”
Several of the approximately 100 people in attendance did just that. They went up and pointed and touched their names or family names that are the heart of the horses.
Stuart Sinclair-Smith and his great-grandson Cannon were looking at the family name on one of the horses.
“I live about five miles east from here,” Sinclair-Smith said. “My family has been in this area for over a hundred years. When I saw my name, it was perfect – he (Perks) did an absolutely amazing job.
“This represents the whole community and especially families and agriculture of course.”
Kayla Fisher, a graduate of Oilfields High School, was overwhelmed by family members’ names on the horses.
“I think it is so cool, I love the personalization of this mural – I think it is such a nice touch,” Fisher said.
The 3-D horses are spectacular, but there is more on the wall that captures the spirit of Millarville.
“Behind the horses, we wanted to pay tribute to the land we are on,” said Claire Perks, Michael's wife. “ The rolling hills, the buffalo run and the Rocky Mountains.
“We also wanted to recognize the Indigenous people who lived in this area. The three feathers at the end of the mural represent the Blackfoot, Blood and the Stoney.”
There is also a tractor, a grain bin and the windmill to represent farming. A cattle drive, cow-calf pair and a cowboy to represent ranching.
“The last group was community and family – that is all the people who are holding hands across the front,” Claire said. “That is to honour all the people who come together to make this place what it is. The generations that have been here forever.”
That would include the Perks, who are part of the Patterson family line, and have been involved with the Millarville racetrack for six generations.
“I said to Mike, ‘You know what, this is part of our family, this is where we live, this means a lot to us,” Claire said. “So you spend as much time as you want on it. You are going to have to live with it for the rest of your life – and your family's life and your community’s life.
“We agonized over it.”
He was also under a lot of pressure to get the horses right.
“My sister (Erin Thompson) is an equine vet and she was instrumental in critiquing everything in making sure it was right on,” Claire told the audience with a smile.
There is also a piece of stolen Perks’ family treasure in the horses.
“I may have stolen some cutlery to make this piece,” Michael Perks said.
The eyeballs on one of the horses were made from one of his wife’s spoons.
“It was my grandma’s silverware,” Claire said. “I didn’t know until after the fact. He asked for forgiveness.”