AAEA Artist in Residence Program at the Kentucky Horse Park - Elin Thomas (formerly Pendleton)
April 23 - 29
April 20 - I'm packing my last package for the flight to Kentucky on Friday, and feeling wonderfully excited about the opportunity to return to the eastern deciduous forests I remember as a child! So green, and yet so not-the-west, which I have grown to love and paint. My easel, my oils and acrylics, and WAY too many canvases are already with my hostess outside of Lexington, and I'm ready to rock and roll at Rolex on Saturday!
I'll be a walking techno-nerd as I get on the plane, replete with cameras, my laptop, several DVDs, a couple games, my iPod... no one would think I'm an artist working in traditional media! But I'll admit that I dislike flying, so need serious diversion!
When I arrive, I'm picking up my rental car and driving to Keeneland to try to catch the evening light on the last races of the day with my digital camera. Then southeast to Lexington and my host family. I'll be staying in the guest wing of Rock Ridge Farm, about twenty minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park, where I'll be working and painting next week.
April 23, Friday: I'm in the Las Vegas airport on the first leg of my trip, between planes. I'm sitting on the carpet by the loading area, plugged into a floor power socket surrounded by others seated with their mobile office laptops running. It is incredibly nice to have the PowerBook along to record a journal of my artist-in-residence, and "pre-thoughts" of what the experience might be like. I left 80-degree weather in California, and am headed for the high-mid-sixties in Kentucky. And rain. As a Californian, I really enjoy rain, as we have about ten months of dry weather each year. Having been raised in Virginia, I miss the distinct seasons. Looking out the window, I can see the Las Vegas strip, with the Luxor's triangular blackness rising beside the tall Mandalay Bay Hotel swathed in the grayness that is the desert color--subtle and harsh.
After a relatively smooth flight, I picked up my rental car and left Louisville, just missing the Friday night rush hour. At the first sight of a dogwood's white blossoms against the dark trees, I caught my breath, and felt the tears come. You see, I was raised in Virginia and New Jersey, and have not been back to see springtime in almost forty years. As a kid, I spent most of my time out of doors, and spring heralded its arrival with the peeper frogs and dogwood. The sun broke through for a few miles, and I saw the black fences, white fences and rolling pastures for which Kentucky is famous. Horses everywhere! Mares and foals, pastures of yearlings, and steepled barns piercing the skyline. I managed to drive to Keeneland before the last race and spent time in the barns and paddock. How powerful the ambiance is at that track! I quickly shot up a roll of film in the fading light of a cloudy day, and drove further to my hostess' farm for the evening.
I cannot say enough about Melissa and Bill's Rock Ridge Farm, its beauty, solitude, graciousness and the kindness of its owners. Suffice to say that I'll take photographs for this page on the morrow, as a picture is worth....well, you know! We are getting up very early and leaving for the Horse Park where I'll be escorted by her daughter JB, aka Jessica, around the cross country track. She's been going and photographing these events since she was small! The weather is supposed to clear and not bring wet weather until Sunday, so we all have our fingers crossed.
Now I sit here with the open window and the damp night smells wafting in, bringing with them the memories of a childhood spent in just such wonder. I'm quite tired, even with the time change, so I'll write more tomorrow.
Saturday Morning, April 24 Early light and I'm out with my camera... the colors of the morning are exactly as I knew they would be--full of the clear, yellow light. These pictures are from the front and back porches of the house.
The photographs just do not show the light...
This is the driveway coming into the farm--the house is behind me at about five o'clock.
Dawn through the trees on the farm....
Again, not possible to show the true light, which reinforces my knowledge that the ONLY way to get it right is to paint it from life!
The main house at Rock Ridge Farm (but I couldn't show the left side of it, because my camera wouldn't let me--it is HUGE, and designed in one of my favorite styles-- Craftsman! Part passive solar, park brand new construction, this lovely home shows attention to detail that is seldom surpassed.
This morning we're off to Rolex!
Arriving at the entrance with a bazillion other cars:
6:15 p.m And what a day it was! Incredible photography, I'm exhausted, but still reeling from the horses, riders and bravery. Here are a few of the three hundred photos I took...
I took so many incredible shots, here are just a few, and ideas for paintings are swimming around in my head --there are seven rolls of regular film going to the developer tonight, so I'll have a LOT of material for this coming week, outside of the plein air (from life) I'll be doing when I return to the park on Monday.
There were more purebred dogs than I've ever seen at a horse event, and wonderfully kind people from all over the world. I met a great lady from New Zealand, another from Canada, and just so devoted to their horses and this sport!
The sun was out...(this definitely will be a painting!
Then the sun was gone.... and this one will also work into a painting...
So we went over to the museum and saw the Spring Exhibit in the AAEA gallery, and I saw again why the American Academy of Equine Art is so wonderful... the paintings and sculptures on display are much finer than any digital imagery can convey. Hey, it was nice to see one of mine there among some fantastic images...
Before we left for the afternoon, Melissa introduced me to Bill Cooke, head of the KHP, and also Booth Malone, who had many of his fine paintings on display. A WONDERFUL day. Now, I'm headed out to see the evening light, and perhaps take a short "practice nap" with my hammock in the orchard here at the farm... Join me tomorrow, and see more!
Sunday Morning, 10:20 A.M. Slept in until 8:30 and woke up to the rain. Sweet to me, California-lizard-wrinkle-dry that I am, but oh-so-not-good for the promotion and the show jumping going on over at the KHP. I'm staying here at the farm today, working on ideas for paintings and doing a couple errands later in the afternoon.
Last night, after the practice nap and a light dinner, I went down to the studio (really must get some pictures of the interior of this home/mansion!) and started the first of what I hope will be many paintings. I'll put it up the minute it is finished, as I have the digital camera and can do so directly to the site from my laptop. I painted for about an hour, and got a good start on an eventer going over the fish jump, 16 x 20.
It is warm and raining out, and I'm going to go for a walk in the woods, before noon. When I left Virginia at age 12, I didn't understand the dynamics of the family's move. I only knew that I was being ripped away from terrain that was part of my soul. And this wet walk will salve the memory of being taken home from a campout as a Brownie scout where the weather was equivalent. Amazing how much sensitivity and memory the human psyche can have! Thanks for listening...more tonight.
10:00 P.M. Sunday Night What a great walk in the rain! I left the farmhouse and went up into the fields above, and this is one view from the second pasture I came into.
Isn't that beautiful? Raining cats and dogs, and yet still wondrous... The new fence line is lyrical. Dandelions are the white "flowers" you see, and the trees are starting to leaf out. I walk on, finding a riding trail, and see this:
Melissa tells me that there are at least fifteen deer living on their farm, and here are fresh tracks. My feet and jeans are becoming muddy and wet, and the cameras are probably not happy about it. However, it is wonderful!
Soaking wet, I came back to the house, and ate a light lunch. Now to painting...but wait! Here's the sun, so I grab the digital and take this picture of that special dogwood right outside the studio...
There's a pink one right behind it. Now I need to knuckle down and paint...
I work on the 16 x 20 that I'm doing from the digital, and then decide to relax and work from a photo of my hostess on her favorite hunter. I change the light, and while I'm working, I share with her (she's returned from the show jumping at Rolex) how I create it. If I can get a good digital of it tonight, I'll post it below. It's 12 x 9, and evening light. Almost finished.
OK, I got it almost 98 percent finished at this stage.
Monday, April 26, 10:00 p.m. A full day at the Horse Park, and afterwards a lovely drive back to the farm! I finally got to meet Julie Buchanan, and we spent a good amount of time collectively sharing thoughts about the accomplishments of the AAEA and ideas for its future. I'll be having dinner with her family on Tuesday.
Here's my setup in the AAEA Art Studio, complete with a horse outside the window!
I spent the day there, meeting people (see that "Artist is IN" sign at the top of this page?) tweaking the oil paintings, and then started in acrylics this little 5 x 7 from one reference shot I took of the outriders at Rolex. Time of day is late morning...
Original 5 x 7 acrylic on board/canvas. I'll clean it up tomorrow and put'em both on the "New Work" page. (Later: Well, I can't do that, because it )
Then I walked around the park and took a few pictures:
The statue of Man O'War at the entrance--a beautiful day!
When I tore myself away, I had to comment about rush hour (5:30 p.m.) on this four-lane highway just outside the Park--too awful, this Kentucky traffic! I don't think I can handle it (Can I move here?)
However, I think I know how they keep people from settling down in Kentucky... check this out--just one of many corners in KY...Which way did you say you were going? I dunno, you probably can't get there from here!
But once you get thoroughly lost, you can come on some of the most beautiful landscapes!
But nothing so pretty as the sight of Rock Ridge Farm...from where I type this to you this evening. Tomorrow morning I head out to Keeneland for a morning photography session with the workouts. Cold, should be down in the high 30s tonight!
Tuesday, April 27, 2004, 11:25 P.M. (Earlier) Bizzirrrrritttt!!!! It is 5:55 a.m. and the alarm goes off... and it is just a glimmer of dawn in the east. It is going to be a LONG day...I arise, groggy, wishing I could go back to sleep, and pick up the cameras and extra heavy clothes for the exit out the back door. It is time to head for Keeneland to see the morning workouts.
I drive over to the racetrack on the other side of Lexington and marvel at the light traffic in the area. One would never know it was a city of almost 300,000. On the way I marvel at the glow of dawn, and wish I had a couple of cups of coffee. When I arrive at Keeneland, I drive around to the back side, and through the stable area. I pull the little rental car right up to the fence area near the track, and park. This picture shows the car much later, and you can see the main track with horses just behind it.
I go into the track office and they have free coffee, so I fill a cup and head back out. As the sun comes up, I see the beautiful light across the horses and track, and know why people love this racecourse! I took many rolls of film, and a fe digitals. Here's one of the sky just before I was ready to leave--looks like Sir Alfred Munnings to me!
But here is almost the same scene, just after I got that essential hot cup of coffee, and as the sun was first coming up...It was really hard to get the light on the horses!
After three hours at the track, I come to the Kentucky Horse Park and start to paint, when who should show up but Barbara Livingston, from the Paint-L email group! She is an amazing illustrator from Cincinatti, and I am so honored to meet her in person! She is this enormously energetic person in this teeny lady, and I'm honored to know her! She showed me her portfolio of work, and it is incredible. Of course I brought my "Where in the World is Paint-L" shirt, and we posed for this picture.
Then I had to knuckle down and paint, and I did these two pictures. One is in acrylic, and the other one is an oil.
This acrylic is "Rolex Rush", and is 12 x 16 inches.
This is a 12 x 12 inch oil, and I'm too tired right now to think of a title (and I need to sign it...!) After I painted these, I was the guest at Julie and John Buchanan's home for dinner... grilled salmon and asparagus, wine and GREAT conversation! I so enjoyed our Director of the AAEA--both professional and a great friend, too. So much laughter, and good times... AAEA at its best! More tomorrow.... now for some SLEEP! (Where's that dinged alarm clock...)
Wednesday, April 28, 2004 At the Kentucky Horse Park I arrived at the Park around 10 after a morning spent enjoying the farm and the beautiful spring morning in the hills of Kentucky. I set up my gear in the teaching room, and prepared to paint for the folks who would come in and inquire about the Academy. At 11, though, I went to see the Parade of Breeds, where I saw Kiger Cougar, the Mustang stallion trained in reining. Just after this picture was taken, she demonstrated his abilities without the use of the reins. Impressive!
I went back to the art studio, and decided that I really needed to pull out some serious "stops" and get some paintings done. I did one for Melissa, as a thank you for putting up with me for this past week. It is a portrait of her on the gray hunter, and she is the whip for the hunt. It is now on the mantle of her family room, 14 x 11 oil:
Now I've percolated the idea of Keeneland, and started this painting, but just ran out of time. I'm going to finish it when I return, or else ask it to be sent to me in California if I can't wait. It is 12 x 24 and in oil.
When I left the Kentucky Horse Park for the last time, I took another photograph of the gate, knowing that I would be returning in less than two months to continue the story!
Thursday, April 29, 2004 - the Last Day. I awoke to the singing of the birds and the early dawn light, to the greeting of my host and hostess, gracious Bill and Melissa Brown, shown here in their kitchen. A more agreeable and kind couple I haven't yet met!
Melissa took me to see some property that is for sale (wonder if she is planting seeds in my head?), and then we returned to the farm, where I packed my gear and said farewell for the time being.
Leaving Rock Ridge Farm was sad, even though I'm coming back in June...
Headed for the Red Mile, where I took many photos, but not one digital! And then I drove back to Keeneland Race Course for the third time, to meet Julie Buchanan again, this time for an opportunity to access areas of the clubhouse that are normally off limits to the general public. We had been invited to see the Life Members' area, where there is an exhibit of Howard Stull paintings, and a fabulous collection of jockey pastels by Andre Prater. I'm miffed that I didn't THINK to take photos while inside!
Our second stop at Keeneland was at the Library, where I found myself in seventh heaven in the equine art books. Nothing formal about me, when the cupboard was opened! One of several loaded with books on equine art!
And the library is graciously appointed with stellar pieces of contemporary art provided by the Cross Gate Gallery, both bronzes and paintings.
Now I sit in the Louisville airport, with memories overflowing, and knowing I have learned a great deal about equine art, the Horse Park, and especially the culture and warmth of the equine community of Lexington. I will return again!