Alexa King Sculpture

The famous and most-photographed sculpture of Barbaro, at Churchill Downs, sculpted by Alexa King.
Allison Pareis photo
Bronze of Orbetello

One of the special images on this website is of the bronze bust of Orbetello, a piece created by the world-renowned sculptor Alexa King.

Alexa King is a sculptor whose works have been “sold at the world-famous auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, been featured in museums and galleries around the country, and is the centerpiece of landscapes both public and private,” according to an article about her on Madison.com.

Alexa King with her most famous work.
Barry Gutierrez photo

Her best-known piece is the bronze statue of Barbaro winning the Kentucky Derby, which stands – or gallops – in the plaza at the entrance to Churchill Downs. Powerfully dynamic, and evocative of that most exciting moment for Barbaro, it goes beyond the moment and captures the quintessential thrill of Thoroughbred racing itself. It’s easy to see why it’s the most-photographed monument in the horse-loving state of Kentucky.

Alexa King’s sculpture of Orbetello is another work that captures the qualities of the subject – the nobility and personality of the stallion come through, expressed forever in bronze.

Meeting Alexa

Orbetello’s owner, Cynthia Hampton, describes how she got to know Alexa, and to commission this sculpture.

“I went to see the small town of Midway near Lexington. To go there is like taking a giant step back in time. The scale and color of the buildings, the railroad running through the center of town, the small shops and quiet eateries were pure delight. I noticed the tack shop Freedman’s and ventured inside. There were all manner of exquisite leather goods for gaited horses and hackney ponies. The craftsmanship was extraordinary. Belts and bags tempted from their corner. 

“I saw some framed pastels hanging on the walls that had exceptional energy to them. The gesture and the chosen palette resonated with me very strongly. 

“My mother was an artist painter and my first memory in life is of her in her smock painting a portrait of my father as the scrumptious smell of oil paint wafted around the room. Much of my life was spent absorbing her life drawings, nudes and abstracts. She took me to museums, operas, theatre and ballet at every possible juncture. She had gone to the Art Students League in New York and harbored a lifelong passion for the cutting edge. Also I spent 20 years living in Paris where I often traveled with her to all parts of France in the quest for artistic stimulation. 

“Whenever the Truth rang from a piece, it was undeniable. That Truth was ringing out from the pastels in Freedman’s. I was too shy to ask at first, but after a couple more visits I asked the young woman working there who had done them and if it would ever be possible to buy some. Little did I know the artist was Alexa King and the young woman in Freedman’s was her daughter Nicole. To this day I live with the pastels I procured from that time.”

“Alexa and her husband had a little farm in Kentucky and one day my family drove out to see her studio. There was pure delight everywhere: vibrant roosters, draught horses showing their power, hounds at the chase… and Alexa’s open warmth and searing wit.”

Sculpting Orbetello

Above: the bronze portrait of Orbetello with the artist, Alexa King: at the unveiling at Cynthia’s; the beginning, with Orbetello in the background; and in her home kitchen working on the clay. The image of working with the clay is by John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal, from an article about Alexa, used with permission.

“For me she is a contemporary woman with all the prowess of Rodin. The emotion, the musculature, the patina of her sculptures is breathtaking.”

—Cynthia Hampton, owner of Orbetello

Cynthia describes how the portrait came about. “Around that time I discovered Crossgate Gallery in Lexington where I first saw Alexa’s sculptures. 

A short snippet of Alexa talking as she works.

“Orbetello is the horse of a lifetime. His intelligence is most extraordinary, and this is packaged in pure natural equine beauty and nobility. I decided to ask Alexa if she could create a bust of Orbetello.  She came to my farm and sculpted him from life.  Starting with mere straight sticks, it was astonishing to see how quickly she was able to capture his personality in clay. What incredible good fortune to have both of these amazing beings in my life!! Thank you, Universe!!!”

“When Cynthia asked me to do a portrait of her stallion, Orbetello, she mentioned how gorgeous he was. That’s not always what the people say about their horses; often it’s their race or show record – or their love of their horse. Aesthetics was important to her.

“Later, when I was standing in front of him, observing him, I thought, he’s one of the most physically commanding stallions I’ve ever seen. He seemed comfortable in his skin. Nothing fussy about him while he was cross tied for several hours as I worked on his model. 

“I try, when creating a portrait, to listen carefully to the owner’s feelings about their horse. Orbetello is a woman’s horse. Although very masculine, he was kind and responsive to Cynthia’s every movement. My job was to re-create this synergy in bronze.

“While at Cynthia’s farm we took a break for lunch. Afterwards, Cynthia gave me a tour of her house. I was amazed at her art collection. It was very contemporary, very sophisticated. When we walked into her study, a wall of black and white images were on display. Cynthia told me she had been a fashion photographer while living in Paris.

“Cynthia’s the best; I’m so glad our art has brought us together.”

— Alexa King, sculptor

Alexa King lives near Madison, Wisconsin, and has been a horse person all her life. She has bred and raised horses, and currently has two ponies at her rural Wisconsin home.

To learn more about Alexa King, please visit her website, AlexaKingFineArt.com. You can also watch “Sculpting the Wind,” an award-winning documentary by Allison Pareis about her work, centering on the massive Barbaro sculpture project, below.

We invite you to contact Alexa King by phone at 859-753-4074, or use the form below.