After exiting the Natchez Trace, and pointing our six-wheeled, articulated, mobile domicile east, we passed through Meridian – a small town in East Central Mississippi. This wasn’t a planned stop, but floods (and tornados) farther west forced us to keep our plans, umm … fluid.
In Meridian we found more proof of the Gallivance axiom that almost every place has something of interest. Our discovery here was Meridian’s painted ponies, or as the Tourism Board calls them: Around Town Carousels Abound.
As it happens, one of Meridian’s city parks has a famous and historic carousel, manufactured in 1896 by premier carousel designer Gustav Dentzel. It was originally exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and then later purchased by the City of Meridian. In 2000, using the carousel horses as a launch point, community activists and city government joined forces to arrange a public art exhibit; which was also a fundraiser for the Hope Village for Children.
One of our first stops in any new town is the main library because we think it says everything about the town – how they regard their citizens, education, and the future. Meridian did not disappoint and we loved their bookish pony.
And this shimmering steed made us smile with its penny-clad saddle.
All the kids at Hope Village for Children joined hands to put their marks on this fancy filly. She sits in front of the Hope Village Thrift Store, so we loved her name, “Hand Me Down.”
Some horses were stunning due to their classic elegance …
Others stole the show with their bold audacity.
As Sela Ward (actress, founder of Hope Village, and Meridian native) puts it:
“Around Town Carousels Abound is more than a collection of beautifully painted horses. It is a testament to what communities can do when they come together to help their least fortunate children.”
The basic concept is that local artists have the opportunity to paint fiberglass animals, which are displayed, and later auctioned off, with the proceeds going to local charities. Supposedly, the original idea goes back to the “Cow Parade,” which was conceived in Zurich in 1998.
According to artsology.com the Cow Parade was such a popular and successful concept that it created a whole series of spin-off concepts, including:
- “Wild Salmon on Parade” in Anchorage, Alaska
- “Moosefest” in Bennington, Vermont
- “Miles of Mules” in Bucks County, Pennsylvania
- “Ducks on Parade” in Eugene, Oregon
- “Rooster Walk” in Miami, Florida
- “Horses on Parade” in Rochester, New York
- “Salmon in the City” in Salem, Oregon
- “Pigs on Parade” in Seattle, Washington
- “Moose in the City,” in Toronto, Ontario
We’ve seen bulldogs “Goin’ to the Dawgs” here on our very own island, Tybee Turtles on Tybee Island, Georgia; Horsemania in Lexingon, Kentucky; and Bearfootin’ in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I’m sure that many of you can add to this list as well.
This is a win-win-win concept and we love it. In addition to the obvious community benefits, as travelers, we love that it’s an inspiring treasure hunt. Searching out these whimsical pieces of public art gets us into parts of town that we might otherwise miss. It gives us a feel for the history and priorities of a place, and always makes us chuckle. In fact, our “Best of Show” in the Humor Category goes to “Iron Horse” in front of the train station, who sports a railroad spike firmly clenched between his teeth.
Meridian has 62 painted ponies, and each one promotes art, culture, and helps disadvantaged people in the community. With contributions like this, it’s no surprise that other cities are jumping on board. Do you have a favorite project in another city? We’d love to hear about it.
James and Terri