Is pleasure riding in California destined to be a thing of the past? Growing up in Northern California, I rode my horses throughout Contra Costa County. While I no longer own horses, my most treasured art possession is a pastel portrait of my horse. I recently visited downtown Napa and discovered equine art – horse in mosaic glass tiles from Italy. Napa artist Alan Shepp traveled to Venice to learn traditional Italian mosaic-making techniques and shared his passion with his public art fountain, Ars Longa Vita Brevis (“Life is Brief But Art Endures.”) Life is short, but equine art lives on in this mosaic horse sculpture in downtown Napa.
Horses and history
Horses have played a vital role in California history – from assisting homesteaders in Napa County to plowing the fields in
John Steinbeck country Monterey and the Salinas valley. I remember talking with legendary vintner Louis P. Martini about his horseback riding adventures throughout the hills of Monte Rosso vineyards in Sonoma Valley. These days, it’s difficult to find public riding stables in California wine country. Horses seem to be fading into history faster than Secretariat out of the starting gate.
Alan Shepp created this visual tour of Napa Valley history for locals and visitors to enjoy in downtown Napa’s historic Napa Mill next to the Napa River Inn. Being a horse lover, I chose to focus on the Homesteader Horse and Plow section of the mosaic mural and fountain. According to history, homesteaders arrived in Napa County while Alta California was under Mexican rule. Around 1846, after annexation by the United States and statehood in 1850, more settlers arrived in the area. As is the case today, agriculture was a main source of commerce in the Napa Valley. Back in the day, farmers grew more vegetables, fruits, nuts and wheat than California’s Central Valley. Fortunately for us, wine still plays a vital role in Napa Valley’s economy. Will horses disappear in California’s Napa Valley like the beaver and river otter? Only time will tell. Until then, the horse lives on in equine art: horse in mosaic.
Article and photos by Equine writer Nancy D. Brown.
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