10/02/2007 12:00AM

Horse art for a good cause

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - I am back in the Bluegrass, peddling art.

Not the crude, garish stuff sold on the sidewalks of America, but beautiful, gleaming bronzes, glorious oils, captivating watercolors, and some of the greatest woodcarvings of horses ever carved.

The work has been sculpted, painted, and carved by artisans who know and love horses, how they move, their musculature, their appeal to men and women everywhere for centuries.

I have been selling works of great master equine artists - Robert L. Dickey, George Ford Morris, Richard Stone Reeves, John Skeaping, and skilled contemporary artists of today - for 30 years. I started the voyage in 1976 after being embarrassed by the convention manager of a hotel in Palm Springs, Calif., who called excitedly to tell me he would have an exhibit of 200 horse paintings in his hotel while I held a racing convention there.

He did, too. I know, because I counted them, looking for a harness horse. There were none. I vowed I would not let that happen again, and started my own art auction, for horse lovers and for charity. Every penny netted goes to help send five worthy kids from racing families to college, and this year's auction, to be held this Saturday, should bring the total scholarships close to $700,000.

Before that, I had tramped the sidewalks and haunted the art galleries of New York and Chicago looking for occasional paintings and sculptures of trotters and pacers, usually mundane works from France, Italy, and Holland. I knew the frustration and futility of the hunt, and decided to end it, with three objectives.

First was to create an annual marketplace for those looking for harness racing art.

The second was to encourage horse artists to paint some.

Third was the scholarship fund.

Happily, the venture succeeded, and today we sell Thoroughbred, Saddlebred, and pleasure-horse art as well as art of trotters and pacers.

This week's auction includes a dozen works from the estate of Stanley Dancer, one of the greatest Standardbred trainers and drivers of all time. It includes a 200-year-old Sheffield silver urn whose provenance traces to Lord Bedale of Hull around 1800.

There is a big original of a Belgian by George Ford Morris, done in 1906, and watercolors of the then world champion trotter Cresceus and immortal pacer Dan Patch, working together, also done in 1906.

There is a superb ceramic vase covered with racing Thoroughbreds, and a lamp to match, crafted by Ngoc Phan from Vietnam. There is a wonderful bronze of Nashua and his groom Clem Brooks sculpted by Liza Todd-Tivey, the daughter of Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd, and another by her of Seattle Slew, and Marilyn Newmark's bronze of Ruffian.

There are the unmatched action paintings by Zenon Aniszewski, who as a boy walked 10 miles frequently from his home to a farm that stabled horses, which enthralled and enchanted him. He joined the cavalry, became an officer, then retired to paint the horses he loved.

Most exciting of all are the woodcarvings of John Kittelson, the cowboy woodcarver from Wyoming who is the foremost carver of horses in the world. He ran away from home at 13 to live with horses, catch them wild and break them, ride the range on them, shoe them, and drive them in wild West rodeo events. And then he began carving them their beauty and their conformation and equipment, in exquisite detail.

Because there is no way to adequately describe the magnificence of his work, which has been featured in the Harness Tracks of America auction for 20 years, I decided this year to take the mountain to Mohammed.

I sent a strong young member of my staff to Wyoming, and transported five of Kittelson's biggest works to Kentucky. They need to be seen.

I may not get them sold - they are expensive - but there are none like them in the world, and they are one-of-a-kind.

There is a nine-foot long, perfect to-scale masterpiece of the Budweiser hitch. I wrote to August Busch IV, now running Budweiser, telling him the piece would transform Anheuser Busch's lobby into a tourist site. A polite note from a functionary said Budweiser wasn't interested.

Kittelson also has two two-foot western dioramas, one - the Oregon Trail - showing the trek of a pioneer family in a covered wagon, the saga of the opening of the American West. The second shows three cowboys and the chuckwagon that fed and sustained them.

If I sound like a bubbly, excited kid about these masterpieces, I am. They embody a love for the horse - of any breed - with a sense of accomplishment in helping send kids to college. It is a warm and gratifying bonfire of the vanities.

To see the work, which sells Saturday in the Tattersalls Sales Arena in Lexington, go to www.elegantequineart or www.harnesstracks.com. Or call me at 520-241-8121. We handle live phone bids, and there is no buyer's premium.