Master of Sharpie takes pen to 'Horse Mania' project

Entry pays homage to 'Alice in Wonderland'

ctruman@herald-leader.comJuly 13, 2010 

  • Coming July 15

    The Herald-Leader's Horse Mania 2010 special section — featuring information about the horses, the Horse Play project and a map of where they can be found — will be in Thursday's newspaper.

For Charlie Kratzer's Alice in Wonderland-inspired Horse Mania entry, LewHorse Carroll, you can thank Lewis Carroll and Johnny Depp.

Kratzer is the associate general counsel for Lexmark who became an Internet sensation a couple of years ago after he decorated his basement with $10 in Sharpie pens. He decided on the theme of his horse when he heard that Johnny Depp, a favorite actor, was going to appear in a movie version of Alice in Wonderland.

Kratzer's horse is one of 82 that will be displayed around Lexington starting Thursday as part of a public art project, Horse Mania 2010, sponsored by LexArts.

Kratzer spent 50 to 60 hours on his horse, right down to the TweedleDee and TweedleDum on the muzzle (his wife Deb's idea, he notes; Kratzer has never been a fan of the quarrelsome twosome from the Carroll book).

He used three Sharpies over a base coat of paint tinted to match the creamy color used in his Sharpie-decorated basement. The horse was decorated in said basement using transparencies of the sketches he wanted to use — enlarged and reworked versions of the original Alice illustrator Sir John Tenniel.

"It is absolutely an homage to Tenniel's work. ... It's a large part of the magic associated with the book," Kratzer said.

There are more showy pieces in the Horse Mania display — with wings and antiqued exteriors, shellac and shells, a horse "blanket" and binary code — but Kratzer's is notable for the degree of detail in covering almost every bit of surface with everything from the tea party to a harlequin pattern to a rose garden to the put-out expression on Alice's face at the tea party. There are surprises everywhere, including the top, which announces that the piece is a "horsification" by Kratzer. Even the Cheshire Cat is structured so as to have tactile ridges striped across its "fur."

There's text across the top of the horse's back, the original opening to the book: "Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'"

Kratzer then picks up the thought, with his own: "The same might well be asked about a horse, especially a white horse, if you really think about it, Alice supposed, when suddenly a white rabbit ..."

LewHorse Carroll will be installed at 301 East Main Street, at the PNC Bank building.

The Internet fame of his Sharpie-decorated basement, which features everyone from Winston Churchill to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot to Star Wars' compact comic relief robot R2D2, is sometimes daunting. Kratzer said the best friend of one of his sons was visiting a girlfriend's house in Cincinnati and was asked by the girl's mother if he knew of the article about the guy who decorated his basement in Sharpie.

The young man's answer: "I grew up in that basement."

Reach Cheryl Truman at (859) 231-3202 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3202.

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