Carpinteria artist creates iconic horse and other artwork
For 44 years, the life-sized metal horse sculpture — its hind legs rearing up and its front legs pawing in the air — was a fixture on upper State Street near Hope Avenue.
His name was Spirit, and he was created by John Godkin, longtime Carpinteria resident.
In 2016, Spirit was removed to make way for a new condominium development, much to the chagrin of numerous Santa Barbarans.
Inquiring minds who want to know whatever happened to Spirit will be happy to learn that he has a new home at a ranch in San Luis Obispo.
Not only that, but Mr. Godkin has designed a replica of Spirit, which was 13 feet tall and weighed 2,500 pounds.
“It took me three years. I just finished about eight months ago,” he told the News-Press. “This one is made of corten steel, which is more durable than the steel original whose legs had rusted.”
When plans to place Spirit 2 in the same location fell through, Mr. Godkin found a new site at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, where it is on consignment should someone wish to purchase it.
“Art has always been a part of my life, but it’s a sideline to making a living. I have applied my design skills to building custom homes,” said Mr. Godkin, who earned his bachelor of fine arts degree at the Santa Barbara Institute of Fine Art. After earning his secondary teaching credential at Cal State Lutheran, he taught clay sculpture at Adult Ed in Santa Barbara.
“I had really good teachers — Douglas Parshall and James Armstrong —
at the Fine Art Institute, where I began painting portraits in oil,” he said.
Currently he is focusing on painting portraits from photographs of Native Americans taken by his great-grandfather in the 1870s and 1880s.
“Many of his photographs were considered so rare or unique that they are on permanent display in the Smithsonian Museum. Through the Internet, I found his photos in collections all over the country. What is notable about them is that he didn’t only photograph the men, but he also took pictures of their wives and children and their everyday lives. I’m learning more history through this than I ever did in school,” said Mr. Godkin, a 1963 Carpinteria High School graduate who served in Vietnam.
His foray into serious sculpting began when working on a project with Kevin Joyce, whose family owned a quarry in Ireland.
“Kevin lived in Santa Barbara at the time, saw some sculptures I had created and felt I needed quality materials to work with,” Mr. Godkin said. “He had a pallet of marble shipped here. I made 20 pieces with the stone, most of which I sold or gave away as gifts, three of them to Kevin, who moved back to Ireland, where an article was written about him with one of the photos showing him beside one of the sculptures.”
His works have been collected around the world by patrons located in Canada, Sweden, Ireland and England. Among his collectors is basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain.
Locally displayed artwork includes portraits of Carpinteria Hall of Fame athletes exhibited in the high school gym.
He also paints scenes of the Carpinteria area.
Mr. Godkin traces his inspiration to create Spirit back to his childhood in rural Nebraska, where he rode a horse to a one-room schoolhouse.
“Later in life, I found a story about the Lakota Chief Crazy Horse that inspired the sculpture’s name. When Crazy Horse was a boy, he had a vision of himself riding his horse in the spirit world, which was like a shadow of the real world that danced and shimmered beyond.
“My sculpture is not the real horse but a shadowy representation of the grace, beauty and strength of the horse’s spirit.”