As the large metal gates open onto the long, dirt driveway, visitors entering Resilient Retreat are looking twice since a new art installation was added.
“Some of our participants and board members have said, ‘I had to take a double take when I first entered the gate because I thought the horses were out and were up front,” Executive Director Lisa Intagliata said.
That was the plan. Underneath all of Alan Yaruss’ artwork is the goal of causing a double take. His website is named DoubleTakesArt.com.
But unlike his previous art, the three wild horses installed at Resilient Retreat had a purpose.
“The idea was to have people do a double take and immediately their mind is taken from ‘I’m worried’ to ‘Son of a gun, what is that?’” Yaruss said. “I kind of pictured their heart level on a graph and said, ‘What can I do to relax them and have their first experience coming in the gate be something that’ll bring a smile to their face?”
Resilient Retreat offers free programs to victims of trauma and abuse and those workers who help them, including police officers, hospital workers and counselors. The retreat sits amidst 84 acres of conservation land off Fruitville Road.
The installation is titled, “...couldn’t keep us apart.” Yaruss wants the horses to remind clients that while stress might be masking the traits currently, the same traits horses exhibit are still inside of them, too — independence, sensitivity and wildness.
Yaruss and staff spent two weekends scouting the property for possible site locations before deciding to place the horses near the entrance. Yarrus said he tries to marry the artwork to the environment so it feels as if it belongs there.
“I’m so happy we settled on that location because it’s just so welcoming,” Intagliata said. “We’re talking about getting Adirondack chairs and putting them adjacent to where the horse installation is so people can sit and sort of contemplate and look at the horses.”
Intagliata also noted that the installation, which was donated by Yaruss, is a fitting nod to the retreat's equine therapy program and the horse paddocks on the property.
The horses are made of wooden fence pickets because, in one piece, the horses won’t fit in the back of his SUV. Instead, he made a frame and cut the pieces to fit like a puzzle, so he could easily install each horse onsite. The most difficult part of the installation was digging the holes for the posts that the horses stand on because the ground was so hard.
Yaruss works out of the garage in his East Sarasota home, which means driveway-only parking for at least a month if he’s working on a project. His day job is in construction management. “...couldn’t keep us apart” took four weekends to complete and a day to install.
The original inspiration came from an installation he built for his own yard. He shares the country home with his wife, Karen Coltun. The couple have dogs, ducks, chickens and two mini horses that roam the property, plus three cows and a flock of birds that stand still in the far corner of the horse pasture because they’re made of wood.
Yaruss, now 80, was a city kid. He grew up in Brooklyn and joked that he learned about farm animals on Google. The kid in him would have loved to put real cows in the pasture, but the adult in him recognized how messy and labor-intensive they are, so he created an alternative.
Yaruss has spent nearly his whole life designing and building things people love, but this project was different. After he finished with the installation, a 12-year-old girl and her polo teacher approached him because the horses and humans were both curious about the artwork.
“When it was done, I felt like I was floating on a breeze. I had never felt that kind of purely art for giving before. It was a wonderful feeling,” Yaruss said. “When that little girl came over and kept thanking me and telling me how beautiful it was, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather.”
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.