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Woodford welder has hottest horse at Derby

BEN MJOS will accompany his favorite work of art, "Brun Stallion," to a prestigious Derby fundraiser Friday night. "I don't turn my back on my sculpture when it's out like that," Mjos said when asked whether he'd leave the side of a horse with a propane-powered flaming mane. (Photo by John McGary)

At the Unbridled Eve Gala benefit in Louisville on Derby Eve, Leben "Ben" Mjos won't leave the side of his favorite horse for at least two reasons. One is that "Brun Stallion" has a flaming mane. The other is that Mjos is rather fond of the creature he made with hand-bent pieces of steel. "I don't turn my back on my sculpture when it's out like that," Mjos said with a chuckle. Brun Stallion's first public appearance was at a private party at Fasig-Tipton in October. One month later, it was the featured sculpture at the CP National Horse Show at the Kentucky Horse Park. "I just had an idea one day. I wanted to build a large iron horse," Mjos said at his shop off Frankfort Road near the Franklin County line. "This actually started out as a study for the vision that I had, if you want to call it that. I had an idea for a full-size horse in action ... and I spent a lot of time kind of researching and drawing and trying to study the bone structure ... and the muscle structure of the neck and face ..." Mjos, whose business is called Viking Iron, said he needed a break from his normal line of work as a professional welder specializing in such things as handrails and gates. "I've got a passion to do things that are original and different and artistic and stuff, and I just kind of stepped back from that other stuff to do something I wanted to do," Mjos said. Growing up in Murray, Ky., Mjos spent time around horses, but said he wasn't familiar with the "horse culture" until he moved to Woodford County a decade ago. It wasn't the horses he came for, though, but a two-legged filly, Randi Redmon, whom he married in October 2008. The Mjoses and their two children, eight-year-old Luci and 19-month-old son Tobias, live in Nonesuch. Randi is also his publicity agent, and a news release she wrote explains that the word "Brun" stems from the Old Norse word for "fire." While Brun Stallion doesn't have a body, there is something that puts steam in its stride - or rather, its mane: a Venturi burner, which sends propane from the inside of the base of the neck to the front of the mane. Despite the flame, most of the head stays fairly cool, with the base of the sculpture remaining near room temperature. Mjos said he's not sure where Brun Stallion is headed, so to speak, after its Derby run, but he does plan on making sure it has company one day. "This is just kind of a stepping stone. My wife's aunt described this as my breakout piece. It's like everything that I've been doing up until now was kind of preparing me for this, and this wasn't even the end goal. This is the first step for the next line of pieces that I have - the vision for my next line of pieces ..." Mjos said. Some of those pieces will be full-sized horses - in action. "I'm really eager to get those started," Mjos said. Mjos said he doesn't like to describe himself as an artist, but people who see Brun Stallion in person are likely to feel differently. "As an artist, whenever you display something you kind of put your heart and soul into, you're super-vulnerable whenever you say, 'Hey, I did this. What do you think?' Some people appreciate it, some people don't, in general. ... I've got nothing but positive reactions from this. Our first client at Fasig Tipton said, 'That's got to be the coolest thing I've ever seen," Mjos said. Mjos said that's when he thought to himself, "Okay. I can be okay with this. I don't need to hide this and wonder whether somebody else is going to like it as much as I do."

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