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100-foot-tall steel horses pay tribute to Scotland’s equine past

The massive horse heads tower over the landscape, glinting in the sun or glistening in the rain, depending on what the ever-changing Scottish skies have in store. Named “The Kelpies,” the 100-foot tall, 300-ton structures officially opened to the public Monday, although their location next to one of Scotland’s busiest motorways means they’ve been on view since construction began in June 2013.

Now the tallest equine structures in the world, situated mid-way between Edinburgh and Glasgow, they pay tribute to the important role horses played in Scotland’s industrial development. The statues lie on the banks of the Forth and Clyde canal, where hard-working Clydesdale horses once trudged up and down pulling barges along the bustling waterway.

Stainless steel plates bolted onto a steel frame make up the horse's exterior "skin". Photo by Flickr user hockadilly

Stainless steel plates bolted onto a steel frame make up the horse’s exterior “skin”. Photo by Flickr user hockadilly

The sculptor is Andy Scott, an artist based in Glasgow. “The original concept was based on mythological water horses [known as kelpies], which in ancient Scottish legend inhabit lochs and rivers,” Scott says. He settled on using just the horses heads for the sculptures for what he believed would create maximum visual impact on the horizon. Engineers worked with Scott to refine his design, which feature a mosaic of stainless steel panels that make up the horses’ skin.

“Andy’s model has thousands — literally thousands — of skin panels,” says Felicity Starr, the senior engineer on the project. “So to try to condense them down to a number we could work with and that we could perfect and have some control over how they would meet and how they would form — that was a really big challenge.”

Another challenge was was how to document the process. Photographer Walid Salhab put together a time-lapse, stop-motion film that records the 75-day construction of “The Kelpies.” Salhab says, “95 percent of the camera movement was achieved by re-positioning the camera on a tripod manually — inch by inch and foot by foot.” He spent 1000 hours of filming and editing to make the final 7-minute film. Watch it here and in the player above.

Photo by Flickr user Brian Smith

The horses are part of Helix Park, near Falkirk in central Scotland. Photo by Flickr user Brian Smith

“The Kelpies” had a nocturnal unveiling last week, with a pyrotechnic display and light show spanning two nights at Helix Park, a $72 million, 865-acre redevelopment that hopes to bring an influx of 350,000 visitors a year to the area.

And until Tuesday, two of the 15-foot-high steel models are on display in New York City’s Bryant Park.

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