Art Interest Started Early

As a child, all I wanted to do was draw.  At that time, we couldn’t even afford paper so a friend of the family gave me a stack of used invoices from a business that didn’t need them anymore, and I used the backs of those on which to draw.  I did my own paper dolls, designing clothes I liked, and spent hours drawing copies of cartoon figures I found in the funny papers, or in books from the library.

There was no chance I’d get to go to college and study art, so in high school, I focused my attention to commercial business, typing, stenography, book keeping, and while I enjoyed art and glee club, I never thought I’d have an opportunity to do much of it.

But it seems I married well.  My husband allowed me to attend art classes at my local community college while my kids were in school.  I loved it!  I had the opportunity, the time, the familial support, and explored so many things!  While painting was my primary love, and drawing is so essential, both of those subjects were explored thoroughly.  Life drawing, drawing from nature, painting techniques, how to set up the palette, what colors to use.  All that was wonderful, and I dove right in.

Bumper piece

Then I discovered sculpture.  Using different materials to make art.  It was fabulous!  We explored and used all sorts of different materials, plastic, plaster, wood, cloth, clay, and even steel.  There was a welding table in the sculpture lab, and oxyacetylene equipment.  Who knew a simple housewife would take so to welding steel?

I did a few other welded pieces as well, and then I got an idea to do a large piece!  I had enrolled in a seminar so I could do whatever sort of sculpture I wanted to do, and plywood and framing were my only options for something as large as I envisioned.

I worked diligently for quite some time and my piece was taking up rather more space in the sculpture lab than others found comfortable.  Work advanced as quickly as possible, and my plan was all in my head.  How the pieces would be assembled would be easy enough for a couple folks alone to do it, and which piece went where, and how attached.  All in my head.  I had the hardware, the pieces all framed out, and early in the spring I was ready to assemble.  However, it couldn’t go in the lab.  It needed to be done outside.

The gentlemen in the sculpture classes were all excited about it and suggested they help assemble it.  Since I really had no choice mid week with no helper of my own available, naturally, I agreed.  We carried the pieces out to the mound of grass in front of the building, a lovely prominent spot seen by everyone driving into the parking lot around the corner.  The guys assumed lots of things, and it took well over an hour and a half to get it all together, standing as I had planned.  But we celebrated!  And it actually stopped cars, and slowed some entering the campus, just to have a look.  At this time, it was raw plywood, unfinished.

Trag, plywood unfinished at this point.

My instructor, mentor, boss, and good friend gave his usual nod of the head, with his arms crossed and everyone was pleased with it.  I knew it could only stay there for a while.  But decided to cherish every moment of the attention it got!  The height of my art career.  LOL!  It was all so fun!

Later, when I took it home, and assembled it in my backyard, I finished it with outdoor stain of off white which caused a fabulous glow of reflected light when the sun hit it.  I loved it.  To me, it meant Mom was right.  I could do anything I set my mind on, and with God’s help, and my husbands, I could do anything!  It’s an awesome feeling!

This thing got accepted in a professional art show at the college, juried by Joan Mondale, wife of the then Vice President.  It went back to the campus, and my daughter, Gael, and I installed it fully assembled in under half an hour.  Some of the guys who had helped earlier were on campus, and were surprised I had planned it so well.  They just didn’t think they needed to listen to me the first time.  LOL!  It had a prominent spot on campus, right in the heart of the plaza between all the buildings.  I was just a tad proud, as you can imagine.

Trag 2

Later, as I was sure the thing would deteriorate and fall apart after years of exposure to nature, I decided to render the design in steel and did a small Trag 2.  While it was similar, it seemed to want to fall over backward, and the sections were narrower.  I got the whole idea from a broken pencil, if you can imagine that.

You’d be surprised how many things you learn about studying sculpture.  So much knowledge of math, materials, durability, tools and how to use them, it’s really a very comprehensive study.  Well worth the time.

Head Sculpture

Here’s a plaster piece I did.  It was the only hollow plaster piece done at that time in my community college sculpture lab.  It took a long time to understand how hollow casting was done, and what had to be done to achieve success with it.  First, modelling with clay, you have to make a mold, treat the mold, figure out how to separate the pieces without destroying the casting, etc.  What a complex procedure!  But, like Mom said, you can do anything, if you have the will.

And, harking back to Spanish Riddle and horses, here’s a small horse sculpture I did, which is in bad shape now.  It isn’t hollow.  I believe I recall using rubber molding material for this one.  All experimental.  At least, for me, it was all learning.


Painting Spanish Riddle – a True Story on Me!

Long ago, I was an art student, and a racing fan, both.  Each year, we’d make an annual trek to Saratoga Race Course, in beautiful Saratoga Springs, NY and enjoy a few days of serious racing and the Midsummer Derby as it’s known, the Travers Stakes.  Back in 1973, the same year as Secretariat’s appearance there, another chestnut speedster of 3 yrs was also there.  Spanish Riddle.  So blindingly fast he set the track record, indeed, one that has only once been equaled and only late 2019 was it finally bested.

His was a sad story, because as fast and wonderful as he was, he broke a foreleg in a workout right there.  His situation was dire, and his handlers who loved him so, decided to save his life, constructing a special boot to replace his leg, and he was retired to stud right then.

He stood first right on Rt. 9, just a bit past Hillsboro, VA at a lovely spread called the Virginia Stallion Station.  If there were other stallions there, I never knew.  But I loved horses, loved Spanish Riddle, and loved painting, so one day I dared to ask, by phone, if I could come down with my camera and take a picture of him, intending to attempt to do a classic portrait of him.  One that would show him as equal to some of those on display at the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga, one of my favorite haunts.

By this time, I knew and understood from conversations I’d overheard, or directly participated in myself, that horsemen are notoriously critical of horse artists, and pick them apart freely.  They live with them, love them, handle them daily, and no artist could ever make a good enough painting of their loved fabulous champion.  I knew this.

I arrived with my camera and was greeted by Mr. Stanley Greene, the stud manager, who bragged about his charge, brought him out with pride, and had his groom hold him for a classic pose.  I had chosen a perfect time of day to capture light on his shining coat, and posed him with the sun over my shoulder, getting a few really good shots.  Where these pictures are now is anyone’s guess. Ugh.

They were nice, accommodating, and just a tad condescending, as I expected.  I wasn’t imagining their skepticism and doubt in my abilities.  After all, I was just a student at a community college.  All true.

I worked on the painting for about three weeks.  Using oils, I realized I had picked great light, and shadows were just right for a classical portrait similar to those found in the museum, or galleries in Middleburg, where I liked to lunch on occasion to look at horse art.

Using several transparent layers, I thought I got the colors just right, and as soon as it was dry enough, I thought I’d go see if I’d done a good job or not.  Well, the best judges of that, of course, would be his people, his tenders, the people who loved him.  So I called, and asked if Mr. Greene would like to see it.

“Of course, come on down and let us see it,” he replied, chuckling.  I’m sure he thought it would not be much.  They did love that horse!

Well, I went out one day in the afternoon, with the painting framed, and covered with a blanket.  I was greeted warmly, and invited into the barn office where Mr. Greene had his desk, a few chairs, some art prints hanging on the walls, well lighted, including Degas’ The Races, which is world famous.  It took up a very prominent place across from his desk.

I placed the covered painting on a chair, and he and his groom got ready to see my portrait of Spanish Riddle, 6 furlong track record holder at Saratoga Race Course, champion sprinter, so I removed the blanket.

The smiles disappeared from their faces in an instant.  They just stood and stared at it.

“You gave him back his leg!”

Yes, I had.  They could think of nothing to say.  I asked if I’d done a good job, and what did they think of it.  They dissembled, hemmed and hawed, and said it was terrific!

I was so pleased by this reception, by their obvious appreciation, that I perhaps stupidly said, “If I were to leave it here, where would it hang?”

Mr. Greene immediately rounded his desk, and took down Degas’ The Races.  I said, “OK!  It’s yours.  Take good care of him!  He’s a super champion!”

And they were so happy!  I was so flattered!  How could I not be? I left it there with his people in his barn and will never ever forget Spanish Riddle.

My one regret was I forgot to even take a picture of it! Stupid, stupid.  No idea where it might be now, either. Spanish Riddle after a few years foundered and had to be put down.  Virginia Stallion Station moved to the Midleburg area, and I lost touch immediately, my goal having been accomplished anyway.  I doubt Mr. Greene who was middle aged at the time is still managing a stud farm somewhere, unless it’s in heaven.  The painting is forever lost.

But the memory lives, in my heart, and so does beautiful Spanish Riddle and his people.