With their natural beauty, historical significance and symbolic stature, horses have long been popular subjects for painters, sculptors and other creative minds.
But Edmond artist Jennifer Cocoma Hustis hopes her new exhibition does more than just convey her deeply felt love of horses. She wants her work to educate viewers on topics such as equine anatomy, herd relationships and the government's wild mustang policies.
Her exhibit, “Untamed: The Mustang's Plight and Behavior Through Art,” is on view at the Science Museum Oklahoma's Satellite Galleries.
“They're an American icon,” Hustis said. “I feel the mustangs are our responsibility for our country. There is legislation that protects them, and really I just feel a big responsibility not just to mustangs but to the horse in general.”
Hustis will be on hand at an opening reception for “Untamed” from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the museum, and riders and horses from the Oklahoma City Police Department's mounted patrol are expected to greet guests.
The event is free and open to the public.
“It's not just another horse show. You know, there are many horse artists out there, so many people that are painting horses,” said Scott Henderson, director of the museum's Satellite Galleries.
“That's what people are going to get out of this: They're going to see beautiful art, but they're also going to walk away with something. Even horse people are going to learn something here with this show.”
Born in Chicago, Hustis, 42, moved with her parents when she was just 2 years old to an Edmond neighborhood where horses lived. By the time she was 8, her mother placed her in riding lessons since the aspiring artist had a tendency to ride off on random steeds.
“Horses and art have just always been there for me in my life,” Hustis said. “I got off the bus, I'd have a sketchpad, I'd go find the horses, and I'd sit and study them. You know, I was sort of the quiet type that likes to sit back and watch a situation, and horses kind of like to do the same thing.”
When she was 10, she began competing as a hunter jumper, but when she went off to college at the University of Oklahoma, she had to sell her horse.
“For the four years of undergrad, I didn't want to talk about horses or anything. It was just like it hurt too much to have them and then not have them. Then I went to graduate school in New York (at Pratt Institute) and the horses came back in my artwork. And that's pretty much all I've painted since,” she said.
Along with painting, Hustis owns and operates Art of Horsemanship, giving private riding lessons and horsemanship training, primarily to children.
“With children, I give them an environment to get those basics down so that they can leave and feel like they can understand a horse safely, they can communicate with a horse successfully. And if we can get the core down in the horse and the core down in the people with them, they can do anything. I've seen horses of all ages teach whoever they come into contact with what they need to be taught at that moment in time ... whether it's building confidence or conquering fear or being responsible,” Hustis said.
“Untamed” spans the museum's three art galleries and features a series of colorful paintings that provide insight into equine behavior, herd hierarchy and natural predators; sculptures that give a peek into the animal's anatomy, diet and spirit; and mixed-media collages and found-object creations that comment on people's attitudes toward horses.
“Then, they'll walk down the hallway and there'll be the gathering section, and you learn about the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM's, process of gathering the horses into the holding pens, where the third gallery will be on the bureau's wild horse adoption program,” Hustis said last week during a sneak peek of “Untamed.”
Encircled by actual corral fencing, the gallery devoted specifically to the plight of the mustangs features black and white photos taken at the BLM's Pauls Valley Adoption Center and interactive art activities that will allow children to swing on a suspended saddle, add details to a chalk mural of a mustang roundup and devise their own brands based on the bureau's formula for identifying the captive mustangs. In addition, the 2011 documentary “Wild Horse, Wild Ride” will be screened in the gallery.
“I've seen mustangs do amazing things and be best friends. They want to connect. They're just great animals. I personally don't have a mustang, but it doesn't stop me from enjoying them and appreciating the core of what our American horse is born out of,” said Hustis, adding she owns two mixed-breed horses and three ponies.
“We have overpopulation of our wild horses and domesticated horses, so this is a very hot topic,” she added. “My goal for this exhibit is to educate people on equine behavior so that we can maybe make better decisions. If we treat the horse as a horse rather than what we think a horse needs, it might be a big help.”