A lifelong dedication and passion with horses is something I’ve delightfully, and sometimes painfully, experienced since I was a little girl. Since 1984, I’ve held onto a publication of a British magazine called The Field that showcased the Lipizzaners of Lipica, Slovenia. The stallion on the cover possessed a spirit to which I was continuously drawn. This issue sat in my art studio for many years, and every so often I’d glance at it and think of creating a painting based on this photo.
In May of last year, I finally put idea to practice. With a blank canvas staring at me, I started painting at 11 p.m. and didn’t stop until 2 p.m. the next day. I couldn’t. I was inspired and motivated. I sat down, stared at the painting, and was surprised and pleased with what I’d just done through, it seemed to me, the help of some muse.
Instantly, paintings of life-sized portraits of Lipizzaners filled my head—full body as well as head portraits; an entire exhibit dedicated to the Lipizzaner stallions. I felt that I’d been truly inspired. I called the office at Tempel Lipizzans in Illinois the next day in hopes of using their stallions as references for the paintings I envisioned. They requested an outline of my thoughts and plans, along with a photo of the painting I was basing this idea on.
After review, they suggested they would use the exhibit as the opening of their 2004 performance season. After that, I started photographing and sketching the Tempel stallions. Tempel Farms is an amazingly historic and beautiful location. Its staff is dedicated to training the art of the Haute Ecole, the “high school” of classical riding and training that the Lipizzaners are famous for that is also the origin of dressage as we know it today.
I then contacted the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, and Stud Farm Lipica, in Slovenia, in hopes of including their stallions. Much to my delight, the people at both sites were interested in having me visit and include their stallions in my exhibit.
I traveled to Lipica and Vienna to sketch and photograph the stallions they chose for me, two from each location. Both venues were astonishing: Lipica’s history and its ideal environment makes it clear why it was chosen as the origins for breeding and creating the Lipizzaner breed; and The Spanish Riding School is the epitome of an exemplary training and cultivating environment, with a dedication to the ability, agility, and power of the Lipizzaner.
Much of this exhibit adventure awakened my childhood dreams: horses kept in a palace, fields with forests and mountains in the background to ride off into, and white-fence-lined pastures of green fields to daydream in. This entire exhibit adventure is full of little stories, amazing coincidences, and overwhelming responses by many people who want to help send the exhibit to Europe.
I arrived in Vienna four hours late because of an ice storm in Washington, D.C. When I reached the station to catch my train to Lipica, via the capital Ljubljana, I saw the train pulling out in the distance. I asked the ticket agent when the next train was scheduled, and he explained that the next train was in 2 1/2 hours, but that it wouldn’t help me because it wouldn’t arrive in Ljubljana until just about 10 p.m. And the next train to Lipica from Ljubljana wasn’t until 3 a.m. Not something I wanted to hear. But, against the wishes of the ticket agent that I should just stay in Vienna and take the next train out in the morning, I felt like I needed to get to Lipica somehow that night.
So I took the last train to Ljubljana. I knew the stud farm had sent someone to meet me at the train station near Lipica, but they couldn’t know I was delayed. So I tried to call, but I had no luck. The train ride took about seven hours from Vienna to Ljubljana. As I got closer to Ljubljana, I was feeling a bit worried and all alone. By the time the train had crossed the Slovenian border, I was the only person in my train car. I asked the ticket checker if there were any buses or taxis I might be able to take from Ljubljana to Lipica. He apologized and shook his head. I thought, “Well, I’m heading to a capital of a country, there must be hotels I can stay in, and at least I’m closer to Lipica.”
One stop before we arrived in Ljubljana, about 9:35 p.m., a man got on the train and sat in a seat across the aisle from me. I thought it was odd that the train car was completely empty except for me and my bags, and he sat right next to me. When the ticket checker came to take his ticket, I asked the checker if he knew of any hotels in Ljubljana, because I had resolved to stay there until the morning since there was no way for me to get to Lipica that night. At that moment, the man who just got on the train asked why I was going to Lipica. “Was it to ride the horses?” he asked.
I replied I was merely going to photograph and sketch the horses, but that I knew they were waiting for me at the train station, and I didn’t know what to do. He asked whom I was meeting there. I told him the director of Stud Farm Lipica. He smiled and said, “Oh, I know him. I have his phone number in my cell phone.”
I couldn’t believe my ears–how absolutely amazing! He tried the number but said he only got the voice recording. I asked if there was any way to call the hotel and let them know I was delayed. He found the number of the hotel and the person at the hotel’s front desk told me that they would send a driver to Ljubljana to collect me and my things. I think one of the biggest feelings of relief I’ve ever felt came over me.
They did send a car to collect me. It was a one-hour ride to the farm from Ljubljana. In the meantime, while I was waiting for the driver, the wonderful man with the cell phone bought me a coffee at the station and, then when the station closed five minutes later, we sat outside in the cold and rain and talked about horses. He was excited because he’d just purchased his first horse, an Arabian. This kind man left when his bus arrived, but soon the driver came, and I was once again warm and dry, driving to Lipica. I knew I was meant to be in Lipica that night, and I was.
Since visiting and including the Lipica and Spanish Riding School stallions, I’ve had the honor of including another site, Conversano, Italy, which is responsible for producing one of the six original stallions (Conversano) that helped to create this breed. Italy has also played a significant role in the Lipizzaner’s past and present.
It’s been an honor to meet so many dedicated and wonderful people from all over the world who believe in the preservation of this breed and its history.
The stallions I photographed and sketched, at all three locations, each had distinct personalities. Some were stronger than others, and in some you can see an old spirit that lies deep in their eyes, telling you they come from a long line of greatness. All of them are proud, all of them displayed their strength and eagerness to perform when they were brought out in the arenas and out of their stalls for me to work with. Each stallion’s portrait was not painted until inspired by a thought, dream, situation, or the combination of these.
Neapolitano Capriola from Lipica was the first to be inspired by a dream. Favory VI Bellanna from Tempel stared at me for months in my studio via photographs and sketches, but couldn’t be painted until one day, when I passed one of his photos, I saw the eye, the spirit, that described him to me. With all of the portraits, it wasn’t until that moment that I was able to start the final rendering. Although I’ve had less than a year to complete all of these paintings, not one of them felt rushed or forced. I truly felt that I only wanted portraits that had been inspired in this exhibit. If I wasn’t taken by some inspiration, then the portrait just simply wasn’t done.
Luckily for me, all of the paintings I wanted to paint are done. I’m taken by the Old Masters of sporting art—Stubbs, Munnings, Remington, Dela-croix, Gericault–who were always my favorite painters. The head portraits of these Lipizzaners are done with that spirit in mind: the stationary, stoic pose of the stallion, documenting his position in the history of the Lipizzaner. Other countries and areas have also contributed to the history of the Lipizzaner. The Lipizzan International Federation, The United States Lipizzan Registry, and the Lipizzan Association of North America are great resources for finding out about all the countries involved. Lipizzans represent more than 400 years of selective breeding, making it one of Europe’s oldest breeds of horse.
The breed was developed in the late 1500s for use during war and peace. They not only possess beauty and nobility, but also are a rare combination of courage, strength, ability, temperament and intelligence. My ability to create and frame the paintings of the Lipizzaner stallions was supported through associations of many, including: Tempel Farms, the Austrian Consulate General-Chicago, The Republic of Slovenia Consulate General-Cleveland, The Austrian Consul and Austrian-American Society-Milwaukee, Barnsite Art Studios-Kewaunee, Wis., and Wisconsin Arts Gallery. This exhibit marks more than my art touring. It will hopefully help unify and preserve an incredible piece of history. This exhibit is not only about the Lipizzaner, but also about history, culture, heritage, dedication and community. I truly hope that when viewers look upon the art, they don’t merely see paintings of Lipizzaners, but rather a family of paintings representing a piece of the history of the horse, dressage and mankind.