By Sophia A. Niarchos
OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – In a triumverate of cooperation between Nassau County government, private industry, and the artistic community, Debra Ann Kasimakis is the only artist of Greek descent involved in a novel approach being used to help solve the economic and PR woes of the westernmost county of Long Island. How has she contributed? By painting horses. No, not the real ones, although, from afar, they look like they might be. The three horses she has been commissioned to paint are fiberglass and have been named Elvenhall, Sport of Kings, and Funny Cide, the latter of which shares the same name as the New York State-bred horse that won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and was hoped would win the triple crown of horse racing at Nassau’s Belmont.
“I had wanted so badly to do public art sculpture. My desire was made stronger when I saw a segment on the Today Show about the public art exhibit of the German Shepherd rescue dogs used in the post-9/11 recovery efforts,” Ms. Kasimakis remembers.
She was inspired to research public arts sculpture on the Internet, where she found Nassau County’s invitation to artists to submit horse designs for consideration for public display and as a fundraising effort.
“The deadline was only days away, but I frantically set off to work and submitted six designs,” she says.
Debra’s artistic creations and those of other artists involved in the promotional effort are expected to raise $400,000 to promote the county’s tourism industry and help preserve its quickly disappearing open spaces. The funds they bring in from sponsors – who pay an initial $4,000 for the opportunity to commission an artist to implement their design, and who later can either buy them outright for an additional $3,500 or put them up for auction on e-Bay in October – will be used to promote tourism and the need for open space on Long Island. Before their final fate is met, the horses will be placed in public locations throughout the county.
Among the more subdued designs (some artists painted their horses with such images as an outdoor country scene that included gazebos and other buildings; a mosaic including zebra, giraffe, tiger, panther, and cow animal patterns; and a soccer-ball representation for a soccer-specializing company), Debra’s Sport of Kings was selected by King Kullen Supermarkets, Inc., and her Elvenhall was sponsored by Engle Associates/Jan Berman. Funny Cide, which would have received great fanfare had the real horse of the same name won the triple-crown, was commissioned by the county.
Elvenhall (inspired by Tolkien’s “Hall of the Elves” in Middle Earth) and Sport of Kings (“my family brainstormed and we remembered my grandfather called horseracing “the sport of kings”) are currently located on the grounds of Nassau’s Old County Courthouse on Old Country Road at Franklin Avenue. Funny Cide is at the entrance to Bailey’s Arboretum in Locust Valley.
“The horses will be moved around throughout the summer as their sponsors select the places where they want them to go,” Debra explains.
Elvenhall is being decorated by five twenty one-inch elves for a festive occasion.
With the spots on his ermine-trimmed cape and the centers of his pupils discreetly displaying the King Kullen logo, Sport of Kings is a cleverly concealed and uniquely artistic supermarket-chain advertisement.
Debra’s commercial artistic work, done under the Pandagraphics Design Company umbrella, includes DebbyDolls, a line of jewelry called RockCandy, GiftProjects and her museum-quality watercolor paintings (one is actually available for sale at the Nassau County Museum of Art). She believes it is important to create art to “spread it around and not keep it” and has been committed to donating works of art to promote environmentally related issues. For her, the importance of the “Horses of a Different Color project” is in the message it gives:
“We are a tiny ball in space. It is important to our survival on this planet that we preserve and create parks and recreation areas.”