Art and the allure of horses have always inspired Harding artist, Mary Lowe. When she saw the opportunity to marry the two passions together in the sculpting of a full-size likeness of a horse for an art exhibition hosted by the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba (AGSM) in Brandon, she jumped at the chance.
“I love horses,” said Lowe about her latest subject matter. “They are so beautiful.”
Having depicted equine images in paintings, murals and sculptures numerous times over the years, she decided to tackle her most recent project as part of the Drawn Together collective exhibition.
The collective is a group of women artists from Brandon and area that began in 2015, of which Lowe is an original member.
“We get together once a month,” she said about the group, “and offer critiques on each other’s artwork, ask questions, talk about art in general and where we are going with our ideas. It’s more of a support group.”
This exhibit, ‘Stimulus Response’, is based on each artist’s own personal interpretation and creative imagination after reading a book of their choice by a prairie woman author. Lowe chose ‘Cool Water’, a first-time novel by Dianne Warren.
“Stimulus response is about the art it provoked in us,” Lowe further explained.
It was in the moments of stillness on her drive home from one of their monthly meetings, that the idea first came to her.
“I was coming home from one of our meetings and I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to make a life-size horse’ “.
The Governor General’s award-winning novel is a fictional story set in a small desert town in Saskatchewan with a multitude of characters and subplots, but a common thread throughout the book and the one image that stood out to Lowe, was the repeated presence of an Arabian horse.
Lowe described in detail the part of the book that inspired her work - the surreal image of a horse running effortlessly and endlessly free over the prairie landscape, silhouetted by a full moon; the reflective luminescence of the moonlight dancing and glinting off its lustrous white coat - which she visualized and captured beautifully in the full-size likeness.
With a background in various art mediums, but particularly clay sculpture and watercolour paint, and a considerable knowledge and understanding of her subject matter, her artistic rendition is anatomically and proportionately correct. Lowe said that the horse measures approximately nine feet long - from the edge of the outstretched front hoof to the last hair of its tail, and is made from rags drenched in wallpaper paste and then wrapped in layers like a bandage over a frame made of rebar (the skeleton) and chicken wire (formed to produce the muscling). It was then smoothed and finished, and painted to replicate a dapple grey.
She reports that the statue is mounted on a base and is very sturdy, and thanks to the rebar, heavy; able to withstand the weight of a “rider” sitting atop. It is quite literally, her largest single sculpture to date. The horse mimics the approximate height of a live Arabian horse at around 14 hands high at its wither (base of the mane), which translates to around 56 inches; a “hand” being four inches.
“It was quite an experience,” said Lowe about the construction of this unique piece from start to finish, and her admittedly initial skepticism. “I didn’t know if it was going to work out!”
However, Lowe is no stranger to large-scale works. She and one of her daughters have, in the past, been commissioned to paint murals on several buildings in the area.
The commitment required to complete the project was real, and fortunately for Lowe, her husband, Eric, also an award-winning artist, was on board with and embraced the project from the get-go. He made the base according to the anticipated finished proportions and helped by offering insight, support, and expertise to Mary along the way.
“It took three months to build it in my dining room,” she explained about the process. “We had it on rollers so at least we could move it around.”
There have been two other art galleries that have expressed an interest in the exhibit now that it has completed its tenure at the AGSM, but she is not quite sure where the piece will eventually land as its forever home.