A rare sculpture moo-ves into Flint Hill

The recently reopened Flint Hill Public House has made a name for itself as not just a high-quality restaurant, but also an impressive art gallery.

Paladin, newest addition to the Flint Hill Public House art collection, weighs 1,100 pounds and required a crane to complete his trip from Texas to Virginia. Courtesy photo.
Paladin, newest addition to the Flint Hill Public House art collection, weighs 1,100 pounds and required a crane to complete his trip from Texas to Virginia. Courtesy photo.

One of the newest additions to the restaurant’s gallery is hard to miss: Paladin, the massive bull sculpture now guarding the front door. Made from chrome, steel, and recycled auto and motorcycle parts, the 1,100-pound Paladin was created by Texas-based artist Bettye Hamblin Turner, the fifth longhorn sculpture she’s completed. The other four are in private collections; Paladin is the first of his siblings to be on display for public viewing, according to restaurant co-owner William Waybourn.

Waybourn said he and co-owner Craig Spaulding believe the art on display is as important as the restaurant’s food. “In addition to good food and service, our goal behind the restoration of the 100-plus year old Flint Hill Public House & Country Inn was to create a showcase for art in rural Virginia,” Waybourn said.

“We had been looking for a signature piece,” said Waybourn, who said he found Paladin while browsing the internet one day. Another bidder – an attorney in Dallas – was also interested, but Waybourn acted quickly and secured Paladin for the Public House. And although Waybourn originally wanted a smaller (vertical) centerpiece, he seems quite satisfied by Paladin’s presence.

Turner began her construction of Paladin by fabricating a pipe armature, a framework around which the rest of the sculpture is built. In this case it was also used to determine the bull’s posture. She then worked from the inside out, layering rust inside silver to help provide visual depth.

Owner William Waybourn says Paladin has become an attraction unto itself: people stop by all the time to examine him and take a picture. Photo by Roger Piantadosi.
Owner William Waybourn says Paladin has become an attraction unto itself: people stop by all the time to examine him and take a picture. Photo by Roger Piantadosi.

Turner then set about carefully cutting recycled chrome from existing shapes. The steel pieces were shaped into their complex curves by hand using hot and cold bending techniques. Even the smallest pieces required up to 40 bends to match the contour of the animal.

The rest of Paladin is welded together from stainless steel, carbon steel and recycled auto and motorcycle parts, including old VIN numbers and car bumpers for the horns. The very nature of Paladin – recycling the old to help create the new – appealed to Waybourn, who took great care when remodeling the restaurant to limit the impact on the environment.

“Everything here was selected for its impact [on the environment] and being made in the U.S.,” said Waybourn. “We really tried hard to ensure everything here was made here.” Lots of parts went into bringing Paladin to life; the sculpture is seven and a half feet tall and almost eight feet long. He’s sort of hard to miss.

The process of relocating Paladin from its former home at the Benini Studio and Sculpture Ranch in Texas to small-town Virginia was not an easy one. The massive sculpture had to be carefully boxed up before its long journey, and the ground required a flat concrete base installed to prevent any damage from tipping. Paladin was much too heavy to lift by hand, and needed a crane to lift it into place.

Waybourn says people routinely stop by to look at Paladin, and pretty much everyone has at least some reaction. “Plus, people around here also realize it’s a bull, not just a cow,” Waybourn says with a smile.