January 22, 2012

The Brick Artist
Designs just happened for bricklayer
By Delania Trigg, Register Staff Writer Gainesville Daily Register

Cooke County —

The unassuming artisan also built one of the county’s most recognizable landmarks — the 30-foot brick horse head
at the Par 3 Ranch on Interstate 35.

Groves came to Cooke County from Canada in 1981 to complete the project for his friend and ranch owner E.T.
“Ernie” Chrustawka.

“When he bought the ranch he said he wanted to build something that would attract attention from the highway,”
Groves said.

When he became a bricklayer, Groves said he wasn’t planning to hone his skills for artistic endeavors.

“I wanted to be a bricklayer to make a living,” Groves said. “I’ve been laying bricks all my life. I taught myself. I never
had an apprenticeship or anything. I just started doing it myself and I learned the hard way.”

He was living Edmonton in the Canadian province of Alberta when Chrustawka approached him about building an
elaborate entry for his Par 3 Ranch in Texas.

“I was in Canada at the time and Ernie said he’d be back in Edmonton in a few weeks,” he said. Chrustawka asked
his friend to come up with a design for the ranch.

“Ernie said, ‘I don’t know what I need but just think about something,’” Groves said. “A couple of days later I woke my
wife up in the middle of the night and I said, ‘I know what I’m gonna do.”

Meanwhile, Chrustawka had ideas of his own.

“When Ernie came back to Edmonton, I met him at his place and he was all excited because he had this big plan —
this big blue print he’d had drawn up at the university in Denton of this real fancy entryway and he said, ‘Look at this,
John. Look what we can build.’ ”

“I looked at his plan and I said, ‘Well, that’s pretty nice ... I guess you wouldn’t be interested in my idea.’ and he said,
‘Well, what is it?’ ”

Groves pulled out his drawing of a horse head. He’d sketched it on the back of a business card.

“I showed him the plan and said, ‘We build this out of brick.’ It was the horse head. He looked at me and said, ‘Can
you do that?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’”

Groves admits he had no idea how he’d build the centerpiece, but Chrustawka had faith in his friend’s vision.

“He took that blueprint from the university, and he tore it in half,” Groves said, laughing softly. “And then we came to
Texas and built the horse head.”

Groves started with a steel I-beam armature to support the horse’s neck and facial features.

The 30-foot structure contains approximately 8,000 antique bricks which Groves said were salvaged from a Chicago
fire.

He and a team of laborers built the horse head in approximately 20, 12-hour days.

Groves said it’s no accident the horse head resembles a chess piece.

“Ernie’s company at that time was Check Mate Quarter horses,” Groves said.

The entire presentation is designed to resemble a chess board including pawns and a rook.

Groves later duplicated his creation at a Ponca City, Okla., apartment complex.

He said he never intended to stay in Texas but liked the temperate climate. In the early 1990s he and his wife Kathy
settled on a rural Cooke County ranch where they turned a weathered 1950s-era barn into a 4,000 square foot
dream home.

“It was just an empty barn ... it was falling apart,” Groves said. “When we moved in we had to put plastic tents up
because the roof leaked so bad and then we built the house from the inside out.”

Like most things Groves builds, the house is stunning.

It has soaring ceilings, a kitchen trimmed in rough-hewn timber, a massive stone fireplace and a handcrafted wagon
wheel chandelier.

Now retired, he leases land to local livestock producers and maintains a small herd of goats.

His pets are a Great Pyrenees named Bebé, and a Hampshire pig named Oreo.

Groves said he doesn’t mind the brutal Texas summers. Working in 100-plus temperatures beats the cruel Canadian
winters, he said.

“My son is a journeyman bricklayer [in Canada], and he's working in 20 or 30 degree weather right now,” Groves
said. “The heat here is nothing compared to that cold.”

His magnum opus may be the distinctive brick horse head that stands near I-35, although Groves said he built the
structure with little more than intuition and hard-won experience.

“There was no plan,” he said. “We just built it as we went along.”
Bricklayer John Groves
Bricklayer John Groves, above, relaxes in the grass with his Great Pyrenees, Bebé, and Hampshire pig,
Oreo. Groves built the brick horse head, below, at E.T. “Ernie” Chrustawka’s Par 3 Ranch near Interstate
35 in Gainesville. The horse head, completed in 1981, is the iconic centerpiece at the ranch entrance.
Click to enlarge photos