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Moorhead man turns driftwood pieces into horse sculpture

MOORHEAD - You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink – especially if it’s made of driftwood.

An elaborate equine sculpture, rising about 10 feet above a flowerbed, now graces the backyard of Steve and Mary Boyd’s house along 40th Avenue and Oak Circle South in Moorhead.

It doesn’t have a name yet – some of the neighbors call it Trigger, though Mary Boyd said the nickname didn’t fit once the creation made of driftwood, tree roots and six-inch wood screws started to get “a little wild.” Maybe Drifter would be a more fitting name, she said.

No matter what it’s called, the neighbors seem to enjoy the newest yard art – they’ve gotten used to the couple’s lawn boasting interesting, handmade features that set it apart in this area of south Moorhead.

A history of projects

Steve Boyd works as a pharmacist, and said he’s never taken an art class – his siblings have the artistic talent in the family, he said. Still, he’s been able to dream up and make impressive displays at home for years, and said taking on these self-assigned “projects” gives him a creative outlet after a busy day at work.

The avid fisherman and hunter said he started to see TV shows a few years ago highlighting people that used old boards or sticks to create interesting furniture and decorations, and felt inspired to try his hand at the art.

He’d often bring home a few pieces of driftwood from his outdoor excursions, whether fishing in the Devils Lake, N.D., area or simply taking a winter stroll with his wife on the frozen Red River that runs just a couple blocks west of their house.

Boyd’s first attempt at creating art out of natural supplies came about in 2012, when he made a large elk out of sticks. The end result looked good and became a fetching Christmas decoration with the addition of some lights, he said, but was too flimsy to stand on its own, so he had to stake it into the ground with guide wires.

Eventually, it became clear the elk would have to go, leaving an opening for something new.

“It kind of started leaning,” he said. “That was it.”

Some of the more substantial sticks that made up the elk were reused for Boyd’s latest project, though he said about 90 percent of it ended up in the fire pit because it wasn’t worth saving.

Boyd and the family got to work collecting a new pile of driftwood, this time looking for the bleached, hardened wood that would stand up to the harsh elements and not rot away, and he started putting together the large horse sculpture last summer. He finished the work a couple weeks ago, and moved the horse to its permanent location in a flowerbed this year.

It hasn’t all gone according to plan, and several pieces of driftwood that seemed to be a perfect fit for the head or an eye looked out of place and weren’t able to be used, he said.

But Boyd kept building it up along the way, skipping a plan or sketch beforehand and instead just adding a driftwood branch or tree root one piece at a time. He originally wanted to build a new elk, but said as he made progress, it was clear it would be better as a horse this time around.

The sculpture is hefty enough to stand on its own, even during strong windstorms, and is held together with wood screws.

Boyd has done most of the work – other than his wife’s occasional helping hand to move pieces or bring him refreshments – and he also got some assistance and advice from his college-age daughters when they visited.

“His daughter told him to go big or go home,” Mary Boyd said. “So, he decided to make it really big.”

Eventually, Boyd said he might add a few more driftwood pieces to finish the horse’s head, though most neighbors and visitors think it looks done as it is right now. While the self-confessed lover of “projects” said the rest of his summer will be busy splitting plants and adding to the several beds of flowers and landscaping around the large yard, it probably won’t be long until he thinks of something new to add flair to the house.

After the record flood in 2009, Boyd said the neighborhood ended up with a mountain of leftover sandbags, so he decided to put in a putting green. He got a patch of bentgrass to grow, but said it was too much maintenance and nobody seemed to use it, so he turned that area into a pond last year and a large flowerbed this summer.

He’s also become known in the area for his creative Christmas decorations, such as a 20-foot-tall candle he built that rose up out of an outdoor fire pit and an 18-foot Christian fish symbol along the side of the house one holiday season.

Boyd also got some attention this past Christmas, when he put LED holiday lights into 5-gallon buckets, filled it with water and froze everything into place before the buckets were stacked up into the shape of a glowing tree.

That decoration turned out much better than his attempt to build a vodka ice bar for a holiday party, he said, though it was fun to try.

“It didn’t go,” he said. “That was a failure.”

Mary Boyd has learned over the years to let her husband run with these projects, but said the driftwood horse is one of the better things Steve has come up with so far.

“There is no stopping it,” she said, laughing. “We don’t need a frustrated pharmacist in the house.”

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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