Some giddyup

BusinessArts and CultureBusinessArtEntertainmentThomas GainsboroughGaming

Ponies are popping up around Arlington Heights, with 20 at home on the range thus far.

And long before their official debut Saturday, the hope is the cutesy colt sculptures will come to be known as more than just a public relations job or a knock-off of Chicago's famous cows.

The "Ponies on Parade" exhibit may actually come to symbolize the role the arts play in turning a town into a vibrant urban center, officials say.

"The arts have a role to play if you look at the great cities in America, many of which are much larger than Arlington Heights. They're noted for art and it's part of their identity," said City Manager Bill Dixon. "For a medium-size community like Arlington Heights to become more cosmopolitan, I think there is a role for the arts."

Late delivery of about half of the 42 fiberglass ponies, and a touch of vandalism, has not dampened enthusiasm.

"Everyone's having a good time with the ponies. I think people are excited about everything that's happened downtown," said Sharon Romack, executive director of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.

Though the ponies' arrival seems well-timed with downtown's renaissance, it was planned by the chamber to coincide with the reopening of Arlington International Racecourse in May. The ponies are slated to be auctioned Aug. 18, with proceeds going to charities selected by their owners. Individuals and businesses paid $750 apiece for the ponies. Some commissioned professional artists to decorate them, but amateurs did most of the work.

Though not so large as the cows that sprouted last summer in downtown Chicago, the torso-high ponies are getting plenty of attention.

Tom McClellan, an attorney whose office is downtown, loves them. "All the new construction is bringing more people downtown," he said. "I was here at 8:30 (p.m.) and the streets were still full of people."

The cows on parade were great, said Carlo Beninati, a local artist.

"It started to get a life of its own. Now, the same thing is happening here in Arlington Heights," said Beninati, who was asked by Bensen Galleries to decorate a pony called "Glue Boy," an equestrian rendition of "Blue Boy" by Sir Thomas Gainsborough, an 18th Century British master.

Chicago's bovine invasion also had a profound economic impact on the city's tourism, boosting the local economy by as much as $200 million, city officials say. It's too early to tell whether the ponies will go down in Arlington Heights history with similar prestige.

Some ponies have several themes at work. FurShipADough, a pony dressed like a clown, was purchased by Arlington Pack `n Ship, Shari's Furs and the Great Harvest Bread Co.

Janice Rybak of Arlington Pack `n Ship admits that incorporating ideas from all three businesses was difficult. "The pony will have a mane that is fur. He'll have saddle bags with mail and dough," Rybak said.

"Daisy," a salute to Girl Scouts, was decorated by scouts using badges and patches. "The Girl Scouts do more than sell cookies," said Cheryl Lardner, Girl Scout service unit manager for the northern end of Arlington Heights.

The ponies' high cute factor and small stature didn't save two from vandals and thieves over the 4th of July weekend. "Udder Envy," painted to resemble a cow, had its horns snapped off and its udders smashed outside Dunton Court shopping center.

"We were really upset. We were happy with the way it looked. I supposed that's just the way things are," said Ilene Jorgensen, a local artist who decorated the pony.

The pony "Albert," representing a computer geek wearing too-short khaki pants outside Corrigan Consulting, lost his hornrimmed glasses.

Naturally, the ponies have been a hit with children. And the fiberglass replicas are sturdy enough to handle a bareback ride--with permission.

"It has a tough finish as durable as a car finish," said Rob Brooke, owner of Tribal Expressions, who decorated "My Spirit Runs Free" to resemble a Native American warrior. Brooke had the colt's topcoat done at an auto body shop in Carol Stream, he said.

"People have been taking pictures. It's not comfortable; not as soft, certainly, as a colt would be," he said.

Resident artist Joseph A. Burlini is working on Mayor Arlene Mulder's pony this week, which will depict scenes from the city's history. He also decorated a pony of his own. Instead of using paint, Burlini used triangular slips of laser foil. The material is more commonly used on the face of credit cards, Burlini said.

The artist created the figure of a young person juggling to stand next to the pony, with balls rotating in the wind. Passersby can watch the pony change colors. At certain angles, it will appear transparent.

"I had to be different," he said. "I didn't just want to do a pony."

T. Shawn Taylor is a Chicago Tribune staff writer.

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