Esther Benedict spent nearly two decades shoeing horses before she welded the skills of blacksmithing and her childhood love of art into a new profession as a sculptor.
The native New Yorker and Texas transplant had risen to the highest rank possible—certified journeyman farrier—in the male-dominated profession of blacksmithing before she faced burnout and sought something new in 1995.
“I kind of started with everything—furniture, sculptures—anything that sounded fun,” she says. “Through doing that I found my niche.”
“Most people thought I was nuts because I had no real art education,” she says. “Everyone always said, ‘You’re going to be a starving artist,’ and I said ‘Oh, no, I’m not.’”
Those unlikely beginnings translated into a profitable and successful sculpturing business that Benedict runs from her small ranch in Bandera, Texas (pop. 957).
Her niche is the equestrian crowd of horse owners and ranchers who commission her to sculpt life-size, line sculpture steeds that seem to ride the wind.
“You’ve got to see things the way they are, and the way they should be, and make the two work,” she says. “It is not planned. It just comes to life.”
Gloria Austin bought more than 20 Esther Benedict originals for her equine resort in Florida.
“The way we have the wildlife sculptures placed, most people—if not told they are statues—presume they are seeing real animals,” Austin says, adding that one groundskeeper panicked the first time he saw a Benedict panther crouching in the tundra.
Benedict creates her art in a large metal building that doubles as a stable for her three horses. Torches, welding tools, and metal scraps in various stages of completion dot the cluttered workshop—a shiny pair of horns destined to frame the head of a life-size buffalo, a small bird ready to take flight, and a largemouth bass snagged by a lure.
“It’s fun to find the lines to go from straight bar stock to something that has life in it,” she says. “Different pieces have different feelings for everyone.
“That makes me feel good that I’ve created something that other people enjoy.”
Ohio rancher Don Bauer owns one of Benedict’s towering steeds, Feel’n Good.
“His eyes seem to follow you when you are moving around him,” Bauer says. “I always find it amazing how a woman artist can take 1,200 feet of smooth steel rod and turn it into life and energy.”
The path from shoeing horses to sculpting metal art has been a long one, but Benedict says the shoe finally fits.
“Being a sculptor is what I was put here to do. I have had many varieties of jobs over the years, but when I became a sculptor, it all fit into place, like the last piece of a puzzle.”