PEKIN — Kids enrolled in the summer camp held by the Pekin Academy of Fine Arts didn’t need to pack bug spray or put up tents. Instead, they practiced their art skills and got to paint on a rather unusual canvas: horses.
The camp was held Monday through Friday last week in Pekin, and each day, local artists taught classes such as pottery and painting.
But on Wednesday, campers filled the grassy lot at the corner of Fourth and State streets for Horse Day. They painted handprints and designs with non-toxic paint on four horses, tried out saddles, and learned about horse anatomy and health.
"(The horses are) trained so the kids can paint on them,” said Shannon Cox, academy executive director. “I wanted to give these kids experiences they aren’t going to get every day. Go outside of the limits with things they normally wouldn’t do.”
The horses were brought by Kellie Branch-Dircks, who runs EZ Dreamin Equine Assisted Psychotherapy in Trivoli. Each was a trained therapy horse Branch-Dircks uses for counseling programs, as well as events such as Horse Day.
“It’s that experiential element of learning art,” Branch-Dircks said. “And sometimes city kids don’t get to be around horses, so this teaches them about the animals and that they don’t have to be afraid.”
Pearl Caitlin, 5, said she enjoyed painting the two miniature ponies best.
“I painted smiley faces and a little horse picture on one,” Pearl said.
Cox said her desire to partner with local artists for the camp — or in this case, equestrians — stems from her eagerness to help Pekin’s art scene flourish.
“We’re able to not only get the kids exposed to unique experiences, but we’re also able to support local artists,” Cox said. “So many artists are doing things in Pekin, getting out there and being known about.”
Horse Day was particularly exciting for the 51 kids enrolled in the art camp, and Cox said she was glad to give them a way to “go outside the box.”
“It involves all of their senses, and it’s things they’re never going to forget,” she said. “I mean, who paints on horses? It gives them that artist’s freedom to (do) anything we want. And that’s something those artists taught them: you can do whatever you want. Be your own creator.”
Maddie Gehling can be reached at 686-3194 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mgehling_pjs.