The first sign that something a little bit different is going on at the home of Loudoun artists Tomas and Bonnie Fernandez stands sentry at the entrance to their driveway.
But the 2,000-pound steel horse only looks unusual until you reach the yard of the couple's rambler on the property of Oatlands Plantation. Here a majestic eagle, made from steel dipped in zinc, is locked in combat with a loathsome, rust-colored dragon. Another huge steed, fashioned from heavy steel links, grazes nearby. And a steel statue of Adam, the biblical first man, stretches an arm skyward toward his creator.
The eclectic mix of works is featured in "Beyond Forever," an exhibit of sculpture, paintings and photographs by the Fernandezes, several other artists and a group of talented children. The exhibit, which opened last weekend at the couple's home and continues each Saturday through November, represents the fulfillment of two goals by county art advocates: an outdoor sculpture park, the county's first featuring a variety of artists, and a display of children's work alongside that of professionals.
Among the student artists featured in the show, which drew more than 350 spectators last weekend, is 9-year-old Jamie Effros, of Clifton. He contributed three pieces, including "Wildlife," a painting inspired by his recent trip to Hawaii.
"I painted dolphins on the bottom and on the left side I did leis, and on the right side I did palm trees and on the top I did a volcano," he said. "And I did it all with a toothbrush."
On the other hand, 53-year-old Robert Thomas Cole used heavy equipment such as welding torches, band saws and anvils to create his contribution, a 1,500-pound, 10-foot steel and stone statue of a gladiator. He used a crane to lift it onto a truck that hauled it to the show.
John O'Connor, art supervisor for Loudoun Public Schools, said such an exhibit boosts his efforts to make art instruction a priority.
"I would like to see this kind of relationship going on more often," O'Connor said. "This is the closest we've come" to a permanent exhibit of student and professional works.
O'Connor said students attending the county's summer art workshop will visit the exhibit this month, followed by field trips for regular art classes when school resumes in the fall.
"I want the students to see that this kind of thing is possible," he said.
Leesburg resident Eeda Dennis, a member of the Loudoun Arts Council, said the project "warms my heart . . . . I think it adds a great deal of interest to Oatlands." Dennis's, husband, Alfred, is a vice president of the Oatlands Board of Directors.
Tomas Fernandez, who said his talents were nurtured during his school days, encourages children to visit his studio, which he shares with Cole. Children even can participate in ongoing work.
"We've really got a kick out of bringing kids out here and letting them see what art can be," he said. "That art is real, not just something that hangs in a museum."
A class from Green Hedges School in Vienna recently helped him sculpt a figure for "Beyond Forever," a work in progress for which the current exhibit is named. The steel sculpture features life-size figures and will be longer than a basketball court when completed. It depicts figures stepping away from opposite walls and coming toward each other. To the artist, it represents an effort by people to put aside their differences and achieve peace.
Fernandez, 34, and his wife Bonnie, 24, also teach adults and children to sculpt and paint. Tomas Fernandez will join the art faculty at Northern Virginia Community College this fall.
The couple has been planning an exhibit at their home since moving in after their marriage last August. But first Bonnie Fernandez had to clear the yard, which was overgrown with honeysuckle and poison ivy, and Tomas had to create a welding studio from a dilapidated barn.
Coming up with a theme for the show was easier.
Since much of their work reflects their religious beliefs, they asked that the pieces in "Beyond Forever," have a theme "of peace, oneness with nature, and/or a positive message for humanity."
"I feel a real direct relationship in terms of ideas coming from God and I'm not afraid to show it," Tomas Fernandez said.