Remembering Jim Reno

Posted by on Sep 6, 2014 in Historically Speaking |

Remembering Jim Reno

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2014 6:18 pm

A 1998 San Antonio Express-News story captured a most memorable unveiling. It reported how television cameras surrounded horse owner Peggy Tweedy as she got her first look at a new statue.

The nervous sculptor watched nearby. Tweedy walked completely around the life-size bronze image.

Then, the newspaper reported, Tweedy smiled and said, “That’s my horse.”

The horse portrayed was none other than Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner. The statue has since greeted visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

The artist? Jim Reno, a man who grew up here in New Castle.

On this Father’s Day weekend, Reno’s story is important to remember. It is a reminder that not everyone is blessed with good fathers and that this weekend should also be about celebrating the father figures who stepped in and took the place of biological fathers, who, for whatever reason, left their sons and daughters behind.

In Reno’s case, his father left when he was five and his mother was forced to take an auto factory to support her two young sons.

Reno, who died in 2008, acknowledged in newspaper interviews over the years that many people here had positive influences on his life.

“Be sure to tell the people who will be reading whatever you may write about me that everything I have and everything I am have come about only because many people were good to me when I was a boy in New Castle,” Reno told Sharon Clifton in a story printed by The Henry County News Republican many years ago.

That’s high praise, considering:

n Quarter Horse News called Reno “a legendary cutting horse industry figure and noted sculptor” upon his passing.

n Reno was president of the National Cutting Horse Association twice and is a member of that organization’s Hall of Fame.

n Chicago’s William Wrigley once said “The anatomical perfection of Jim Reno’s people and animals brings life to a legendary era. We share the spirit of that time through his work.”

n He presented a small working model of The Brand Inspector to Ronald Reagan for the White House’s permanent collection and once was the only American sculptor invited by Queen Elizabeth II to the Horse Artist of the World exhibition at the Tryon Gallery in London.

Reno’s youth was molded by local people who took an interest in him from Robert and Dorotha White, who hired him to take care of their horses, to teachers at New Castle High School.

In fact, it was a teacher who first discovered Reno’s talent for sculpting.

When a model of a good beef animal was needed in one of his classes, Jim carved one. It was so good, the teacher entered it in a state competition and it won. The teacher lobbied the prestigious Herron School of Art in Indianapolis to give Reno a scholarship.

An artist of national proportions was born.

Reno went on to produce many memorable works of horse art. It became a means to his true love, with money he made helping him get closer to real horses.

“I’m a horseman,” Reno told The San Antonio Express-News. “I needed a ranch to raise horses. My art let me have the ranch.”

Inside the Henry County Historical Society Museum at 606 S. 14th St. is a Reno work of art that has nothing to do with horses, but everything to do with the strength and grace they possess.

Called “The Gentle Man,” the statue shows a tall, muscular black man kneeling and gazing at a bird he is holding in his hand. Apparently the bird has an injured wing. Jim told Sharon Clifton in her News Republican article that the inspiration for it came from a friend he had here in New Castle.

“We program little boys that it’s not manly to be gentle,” Reno told Clifton. “But that’s wrong. A man can be gentle and he can cry. The Gentle Man is a real man.”

Just last weekend, horse racing enthusiasts were glued to their television sets, hoping that California Chrome could join Secretariat and 1978’s Affirmed as Triple Crown winners. It didn’t happen, a reminder of just how difficult the feat really is.

It was also an affirmation of just how special Jim Reno’s talent really was, to be selected to sculpt one of the greatest horses of all time.

And a reminder that the good, ordinary people of New Castle and Henry County are carving potential pieces of history daily in their own gentle way.

Come see Reno’s “Gentle Man” sculpture and the other interesting exhibits at the Henry County Historical Society. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

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