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Museum Minute: Iron Horse

One of the most popular works of art in Athens isn’t actually in Athens and isn’t part of the museum’s collection. Abbott Pattison’s “Iron Horse” sits in a field on Highway 15, about halfway between Athens and Greensboro, Georgia. Pattison created it in 1954, when he was an artist in residence at UGA. He also carved “Mother and Child,” an abstract sculpture in marble that sits next to UGA’s Fine Arts Building.

Pattison created the 2-ton abstracted metal sculpture of a horse to stand in front of Reed Hall, but modern art wasn’t welcomed to campus. “Mother and Child” had been defaced with green paint, and UGA students immediately shoved hay into the Iron Horse’s mouth, scattered manure on the ground behind it and set a mattress on fire underneath it. It didn’t stay on campus long. Pattison said, “It’s degrading to have that happen to anyone’s idea. …The university took quite a courageous step in … having me come down here and work in the first place. … Now I think their action in taking the horse down and hiding it is cowardly. … I feel terrible.”

L.C. Curtis, who worked in UGA’s horticulture department, agreed to take it to his farm, and there it still stands, a work of modern art on the edge of agricultural land. It remains a popular spot for photographs, especially when sunflowers are blooming, and for stargazing. This museum reminds you that all art should be treated with care and that standing or sitting on it is a good way to injure the art or yourself.