Meet 7 artists who render images of the ever-inspiring horse
This story was featured in the April 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Oil painter Kay Witherspoon has worked on trail crews for the U.S. Forest Service, as a high school art and American history teacher, as a realtor, and as a family therapist. Yet her interest in art has followed her throughout all of these endeavors. Witherspoon’s natural tendency toward art started in childhood when she drew on the walls with her mother’s lipstick, and it continued as she made papier-mâché horses in first grade. “It all started with my love of horses,” the artist admits.
Since those early art projects, and after spending time on her uncle’s cattle ranch in Wyoming, the majesty of the horse has inspired her even more. She painted horses, landscapes, and figures early in her career; after moving to the outskirts of Denver in the late 1990s and taking up residence next door to a polo field, the horse became her full-time subject. Inspired by the style of the classical traditionalists of the 19th and 20th centuries, Witherspoon’s oil paintings use layers of glazing and focus on light to enhance the realism in her works. “Horse people love to see that detail,” she says. “They take a lot of pride in their horses.”
Recently she participated in a two-day cattle drive and has started creating more western-inspired scenes, melding her realistic style with touches of impressionism. “I love action paintings with horses. And I’m trying to add a looser style that will better support action. I want to use both of these [artistic] realms,” she says. Witherspoon’s work can be found at www.kaywitherspoon.com. —Joe Kovack
When Rox Corbett talks about the horse, it is always with deep respect. She often cites the many things the trusted steeds have done for mankind throughout history. “We have sent them into battles to conquer nations. They have lived and died for us,” Corbett says. “And the fact is, we basically built the West on horses.”
Today, Corbett says, as a Wyoming rancher, the equine is still vital to the western way of life. Her mission as an artist is to celebrate the amazing creatures by depicting their many moods, expressions, souls, and beauty. Corbett chooses to portray the horse in black and white, preferring to work in charcoal specifically because of the darkness and depth she can achieve compared to working in pencil. “I use charcoal so I can pare my drawings down to basic elements of light, dark, texture, detail, and composition,” she says.
Even though Corbett spent 20 years as a marine-mammal researcher, she always found time for her fine-art interests, putting to use her bachelor of fine arts degree from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. This year her detailed, evocative drawings are on view in a variety of impressive shows, including Cowgirl Up! at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, AZ; the Western Visions Show & Sale at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY; and the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, WY. Corbett is represented by Big Horn Galleries in Cody, WY, and Tubac, AZ. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Sheep, swans, chickens, and cows. Margo Mitchell paints them all, but it’s horses that she returns to most often. Like many young girls, Mitchell became fascinated with horses early on and then spent a number of years observing them. “Horses are elegant, and they have a certain magic about them,” she says.
Mitchell is a mostly self-taught artist who says workshops over a two-year period with Richard McKinley have been the biggest influence on her fine-art career, as well as studying art in galleries and museums throughout Europe and the United States. Another important recent influence was participating in an artist-in-residence program at the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in northeastern Arizona. The experience offered her the chance to closely observe the variety of changes in nature and its creatures.
When it comes to inspiration, the Arizona-based painter turns to works by early American Impressionists, such as Willard Metcalf, and more recent paintings by James Reynolds [1926-2010]. Although her style is best described as representational, Mitchell eschews photorealism. She prefers a looser, more expressionistic approach that captures the dynamism and movement of the animal. “I find that my real intention is to convince the viewer that I have correctly depicted the subject—the animal’s personality and soul—so that suddenly the viewer may imagine an ear or tail twitching.”
Mitchell is represented by the Sedona Arts Center in Sedona, AZ, where she is participating in a group show titled Mane Attractions opening on May 1. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Carol Tippit Woolworth
About a year ago, Carol Tippit Woolworth painted her first horse. “I’ve always loved horses,” she says, explaining that when she began that first painting, all that love came rushing back and pouring into her art. “It just felt so natural—the painting just rolled off my brush,” she says, adding, “Before I knew it, I was in a horse-painting frenzy!”
Woolworth was born and raised in Santa Barbara, CA, where she studied fine art and painting for several years. In the mid-1980s, the need to make a living, she says, led her to the East Coast and a career in graphic design—but she never gave up her passion for painting. “I always painted for myself, but about 10 years ago, I started getting more serious about it,” she says. Woolworth explored a variety of styles, but it was “shape-driven abstract art that really spoke to me,” she explains. While she’s currently focusing on equine art, Woolworth refuses to limit herself to one subject. “I’d get bored painting the same thing all the time,” she adds. No matter what she paints, her goal is always the same: to capture an intense moment—a breathtaking scene, dramatic light, or a powerful arrangement of color—in a way that evokes an emotional reaction in the viewer. “I want [my work] to hit somebody in their solar plexus—to give them the kind of visceral feeling I had when I painted it,” she says.
Woolworth is preparing for a solo show this month at Blue Streak Gallery in Wilmington, DE. Her works can also be found at Hardcastle Gallery, Centreville, DE; Gallery One, Chadds Ford, PA; and www.caroltippitwoolworth.com. —Lindsay Mitchell
As a young girl growing up on a farm in the heart of Michigan horse country, Weatherly Stroh developed a profound connection to the equine species that has never left her. Stroh is an avid, nationally ranked horsewoman, and her lifelong love of riding and caring for horses is equally matched by her enthusiasm for art—so it makes sense that she eventually combined her two great loves into one goal: a career as a professional equine artist. Yet this path wasn’t always so clear-cut for Stroh.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in fine art and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Colorado in Boulder, she began teaching third- and fourth-grade students, and her focus was diverted away from her artistic aspirations for a number of years. But she couldn’t resist the pull of painting for long. She eventually decided to refocus her life toward fine art and began painting full time in 2010. “I started out painting landscapes, but when a friend asked me to do a portrait of their dog, I suddenly found myself being more drawn to animals as subject matter,” she says. Once she started to focus on animals in her work, Stroh’s background with horses naturally led to an affinity for equine art. “My familiarity with horses—their anatomy, the way they move and feel, and their individual personalities—has proved to be extremely valuable in my work,” she says. “I love trying to capture the individuality of each horse that I paint. It’s what I strive for most in my work, and it’s also what makes it fun.” Stroh’s work can be found at www.weatherlystroh.com. —Lindsay Mitchell
“I fell in love with horses at a young age, like every other little girl I knew,” artist Willi Waltrip muses. Growing up in Oklahoma, Waltrip spent a lot of time around animals and at rodeos. Both of her parents were artists, so her creative spirit was nurtured from a young age as well. When it was time to leave the nest, Waltrip knew just what she would do. “My goal was always to be a fine artist,” she says. But, as is often the case, life had other plans. After college, the realization that she “had to eat” led Waltrip to a long and successful career in commercial art. “Eventually I met the man of my dreams, got married, and moved to his ranch in Arizona,” she says. While she wasn’t too keen on relocating at first, it turned out to be a serendipitous move. After settling in with her husband, she began reconnecting with her two other great loves: horses and painting. It wasn’t long before she left the commercial art world to pursue fine art full time.
Today, at the age of 76, she continues to pursue her passion with gusto. “Art has really kept me active and alive over the years,” she says. This energetic spirit is evident in Waltrip’s lively works. “I enjoy painting horses in action because I want viewers to see them as the living, breathing, beautiful creatures” who have been journeying with humans through time and space for centuries, she says. Waltrip’s work can be found at www.williartist.com. —Lindsay Mitchell
The power and majesty of horses have captured the imagination of Florida-based artist Karla Smith since childhood. As a young girl growing up in Illinois, she adored drawing and riding her family’s horses and ponies. When it came time to think about a career, she decided to pursue her interest in drawing, studying both commercial and fine art at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. For the past 22 years Smith has worked as an art director and Web designer while devoting her spare time to the fine art of portraying horses, among other subjects. “I’ve been around horses for so many years,” Smith says. “I’ve had quarter horses and thoroughbreds. I have worked at racetracks taking care of 20 horses. They are all so beautiful.”
For reference material Smith often travels to horse shows across the country. She may sketch or take photographs, but she is adamant about not just copying a photograph; the image is only a starting point, she says. Smith focuses intently on portraying the equine’s individual spirit. Rather than depicting a “generic” horse, she prefers to convey the variations in breeds—the ways an Appaloosa, for example, may be different in shape or sheen from an Arabian.
Smith paints other subject matter, including architecture and still lifes, but it’s her special connection with horses that makes them a perennial favorite. When it comes to her fine-art career, Smith says what she enjoys most is that the pursuit is never-ending. “You are constantly learning. It’s a passion you can keep forever,” she says. Smith’s work is available at www.karlasmith.artspan.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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