The marsh tacky has been called all sorts of things -- stumpy, common, cheap, even "ugly," as one state representative once said. It's also been called patient, steady, workman-like, the sensible horse that helped Swamp Fox Francis Marion through the American Revolution.
Rarely has it been called a model. But that's what it's become at the Coastal Discovery Museum.
The state heritage horse is the focal point of the exhibit "Marsh Tacky: Now and Then" that runs through Oct. 31 at the museum. The exhibit traces the history of the marsh tacky from when the Spaniards brought it to the sea islands 500 years ago.
The museum called on artists to submit paintings, photographs and sculptures of the marsh tacky. It received close to 50 pieces of work, said vice president of programs Natalie Hefter.
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And so you have it: The horse that a few called ugly, others are calling a work of art.
Bluffton artist Murray Sease based her paintings on photographs her husband took during the marsh tacky races on Coligny Beach during the annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration.
"The marsh tackys are such beautiful animals," she said. "They're very inspirational for photographers and painters."
The marsh tacky races recalled the annual Christmastime races that were once an island tradition. That was back when the marsh tacky was used on the island for everything from getting to church to plowing the fields and the horses were much more widespread.
The marsh tacky was on the edge of extinction before revitalization efforts in recent years brought the breed back; according to estimates, about 250 of the horses now exist.
"They've been a vital part of the community for so many years," said artist Louanne LaRoche, who has a painting in the exhibit. "It's a history I hope isn't lost."