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Roped In: 2018 Quarter Horse Congress

The mid-’60s were some of the last days in Columbus before the highway system sliced apart urban communities, and the sneaky fingers of suburban sprawl started to inch their way across the rural landscape of central Ohio. A seed of an idea was being planted in the heart of it all: One of the greatest [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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The mid-’60s were some of the last days in Columbus before the highway system sliced apart urban communities, and the sneaky fingers of suburban sprawl started to inch their way across the rural landscape of central Ohio. A seed of an idea was being planted in the heart of it all: One of the greatest horse shows the world has ever seen.

The American Quarter Horse Congress, held at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, is a tradition that stretches back into the mid-20th century, and has grown to become the largest single-breed horse show in the world. It’s one of the largest annual events in the city, which people at large seem to know the least about.

The agile Quarter Horse has the temperament and power to pull off ranching duties by working in tandem with their handler through reign, leg, and voice commands. Their name comes from the straight quarter mile stretches they would race over since their development in colonial times, soundly beating other breeds. Fast forward several hundred years, and the Quarter Horse had a love affair with the American west. The quintessential cowboy of old was often seen on a Quarter Horse, cutting through herds of cattle, roping, and trick riding.

Though Americans came to rely on horses less and less as time wore on and properties became smaller, spaghetti westerns still filled silver screens. John Wayne strode across open landscapes, punching out drunkards, and swooping damsels in distress onto his horse. The image of an unrestricted, masculine cowboy loomed large in the American psyche and pop culture. As farming communities dwindled, those who made their business on the backs of hoofstock doubled down on tradition. They wore their grandfather’s hats, literally and figuratively.

The sprawling family ranches that remain are empires built on handshakes. Like any subculture, they have their own lingo, dress, and sets of norms that may go against the modern grain. But that’s just how they like it.

Bedazzled dressage queens with jewel-encrusted jackets and perfectly curled hair perch atop their horses as they parade through pageants on horseback. Trick riders show off their hard-learned skills in competitions that have broken down ancient and dangerous ranching techniques, and given them a point system. The arena walls are a structured environment in which to showcase and literally spotlight the skills that can only be learned through having a daily interaction with the animals and activities valued by the congress and its culture.

And value it they do. Horses are big business. The rows of stalls in the fairground barns are transformed during the month-long congress. Facades of buildings are constructed over the entryways to the designated rows reserved by ranchers who travel with their animals from all over the continent for the event. Pop-up homes and offices are literally drywalled and painted and furnished to create a home for a family, or an office for business deals.

Everywhere you walk, people will lock eyes across the way and holler for someone they know, running over to embrace or shake hands. This is a tradition where fiends are made and kept over years and generations and decades.

After the bull riding competition one night, people pour onto the arena’s dirt floor to mingle with the bull riders. The thrilling whiplash spectacle of mountainous animals versus fighters and riders has concluded. The bulls trot back to their stalls, and the riders come out to mingle with the crowd, folk heroes that you can touch and talk to. They sign hats for little boys and young women drape their arms around them for photo ops and slipped numbers. These young men embody the old American cowboy ideal. (And they’re always young. The retirement age for bull riding hovers well below 30—should they reach that age after escaping serious injury or even death in the arena.) The ‘aw, shucks’ attitudes somehow mesh with a hint of bravado that swells under their button-up shirts. Their shoulders bear the weight and pride of an ancient human need to conquer the natural world, and do a little dance with danger.

Hats cast a striking shadow here, and dirtied work boots are traded for goin’ out boots when the day is over and the horses are put up for the night. There’s an entertainment circuit here for the after-hours crowd. There are multiple bars, and each year’s congress hosts a concert series of local and national acts. This is a business trip and a reunion and a proving ground. Every year for a month, just north of our ever-evolving downtown, Columbus hosts a spectacle thousands of people and animals strong that links us directly to a hidden but still strong industry, and an idealized vision of what we once were.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist

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Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

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And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas

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If you haven’t visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city’s hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area’s evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

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With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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Arts Fest Preview: Cousin Simple to wow crowd with energy, passion

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As a young up-and-coming band, Cousin Simple is excited to play at this year’s Columbus Art’s Festival. In their two years as a band, they have already done a lot of really cool things, such as making a single with L.A. multi-platinum music producer David Kershenbaum, playing at Vans Warped Tour at Blossom Music Center, and selling out shows at the A&R Bar, the Basement and The Big Room Bar. But there is much more they want to accomplish including recording more music, making a music video and playing more shows in and out of Columbus.

The band members are all Columbus born and raised. Four members currently attend The Ohio State University, while their drummer Joel is finishing up his junior year at New Albany high School. Cousin Simple brings an energy and passion to the stage and gives everything they have to their performances, regardless of the crowd size. They just released a new single in February called Honeybee, available on iTunes and Spotify and have a single set to release May 10 titled “Star Destroyers.”

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Columbus is a great city for musicians. Whether you’re in the indie, rock, or hip hop scene, there are other musicians and music industry people willing to help you out. Columbus also takes a great sense of pride in its “local gems.” People love to see musicians who are doing well in their hometown and are willing to support them in many ways.

There are so many organizations that have taken this to heart and are helping bands get great opportunities. CD102.5, WCBE 90.5, PromoWest Productions and the Columbus Music Commission have helped Cousin Simple get airtime, shows and support. When it comes to music cities, Columbus may not be the first place that comes to mind, but there are so many bands and musicians doing exciting things it’s making the future bright for them and the Columbus music scene.

But Cousin Simple recognizes that none of this would be possible without the support of their family, friends and FANS that come to each and every show. They are humbled and motivated by their audiences who energize them to make every performance an experience their fans won’t forget. 

Cousin Simple will perform on the Big Local Music Stage on Rich Street on Friday night, June 7 at 7:45 p.m.

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