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The Iron Horse

Four thousand pounds of art and controversy

Story and photos by Mark Engel


The Iron Horse sculpture is about 70 years old, stands 12 feet tall, is made of welded boiler plate steel and weighs 4,000 pounds.

You need to know what happened to The Iron Horse before you hop in your car and

drive to see it up Georgia Highway 15 between Greensboro and Athens. Otherwise, it’s

just a 4,000-pound rusted iron sculpture of an equine that sits off the highway in a field.

Its history includes an angry revolt that set the statue on fire, a late-night trip out of town

to an undisclosed location, an adoption, and unfortunate positioning in the field which

casts its place in Greene County lore.


In 1954, Abbott Pattison was already a sculptor of note when the University of Georgia,

the oldest state-chartered university in the country, sought to introduce modern, avant-

garde art to the campus.


Over four months, as the story goes, Pattison fashioned a 12-foot-high abstract horse

from welded boiler plate steel. When completed, “Pegasus Without Wings” was mounted

on a pedestal at the front of the newly completed Reed Hall, just a gallop away from

Sanford Stadium.


Today, The Iron Horse bears burns, rust, scratches and graffiti from 70 years of abuse at the hands of pranksters and students who don't appreciate the avant-garde sculpture.

It quickly became clear that the cutting-edge piece of art was not welcome in Athens.


Just hours after its dedication, it was subjected to the scorn of hundreds of angry UGA students. Using spray paint, hammers, gobs of manure and, finally, a bonfire in an attempt to melt or destroy what was soon referred to as The Iron Horse.


“I was struck with the idea of ancient Athens, where people lived with sculpture all around them and even if they didn’t like it, they left it alone,” said the artist on May 28, 1954, according to the Atlanta Journal; “I wanted Athens, Georgia, to have a piece of sculpture to look at. And I think the least I could have expected, even if they didn’t like

it, was a little Southern courtesy.”


"And I think the least I could have expected, even if they didn’t like
it, was a little Southern courtesy.” -- sculptor Abbot Pattison

Newspaper articles reported that the University president heard rumors that the

students would return with dynamite and acetylene torches to finish the destruction. He

immediately ordered its removal from campus. Under the dark of night, it was taken to

an old barn where it stayed for five years until L.C. Curtis, a professor of agriculture,

convinced the school to give him the statue so he could display it on his farm, where it is

today.


The best time of year to enjoy The Iron Horse is when it is surrounded by color from the acres of sunflowers planted on the adjacent land aptly called the University of Georgia Iron Horse Plant Sciences Farm.

But that’s not all. The horse is mounted so its head faces away from the UGA campus,

which means that its, ah, rear end is pointing directly at the place that stampeded it out

of town. Curtis was quoted as saying that the truck delivering the iron steed got stuck in

mud and the artwork spilled on field in that direction. It was easier to mount it that way.

But the better story, that is widely shared today, is that it was symbolically positioned

with the tail end pointing at UGA as a final gesture to those who rode The Iron Horse

out of town.


The Iron Horse (small dot in the lower center of picture) stands alone off Highway 15 in northern Greene County, surrounded by land now owned by the University of Georgia.

Ironically, the land around the horse is now owned by the UGA Agriculture Department.

The Curtis family still owns a sliver of land that runs from the sculpture to a nearby parking area off Highway 15. They would like to deed the land to UGA and have them take over maintenance of the Horse.


But the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2020 that the Curtises insist the Horse not be moved. The University reportedly said they would want the right to take Pegasus back to campus. So, it’s apparently at a stalemate.


The sculpture now sits in the middle of what’s called the UGA Iron Horse Plant Sciences

Farm where a field of sunflowers blossom into bright orange, brown and yellow colors

every year around the end of August.


That is the best time of year to visit The Iron Horse; but any time you go, you will realize

it is a work of art that is truly outstanding in its field.


The Cavell family of The Iron Horse is a popular spot for photos and selfies. Watkinsville stopped for an up-close view of The Iron Horse on a beautiful sunflower-y day in August.

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This story was published in the March-April 2023 issue of Lakelife magazine. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written permission from the publisher.

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