A horse is worth more
— Spanish Proverb
Practically from the time she could hold a pencil, Oklahoma City artist Kristen Vails has favored a particular subject matter, one known for its grace and athleticism, loyalty and companionship.
“I was one of those crazy horse girls,” she said with a laugh. “As long as I can remember, I drew them, I collected Breyer (model) horses, I had pictures all over my walls. Horse books, horse movies, I just loved them.”
Growing up in Piedmont, her parents would take her horseback riding on vacations, and when she was in middle school, they got her a Quarter Horse. While she doesn't ride anymore, she still owns and visits her girlhood steed, Fritzy, now 19.
“Painting horses has allowed me to kind of keep that connection to them,” said Vails, who is also executive director of the Plaza District Association.
Her acrylic and latex paintings of equines will be featured in “The Dog & Pony Show” at In Your Eye Gallery in the Paseo Arts District. The exhibit opens Friday night during the monthly Paseo Gallery Walk.
Along with their natural beauty, horses symbolize freedom, wildness and companionship, characteristics that have made them popular subjects not only in visual art but also in literature and film.
“I think the biggest reason is the romance, the love of horses that humans have had since recorded history, the freedom that the horse gives you to travel faster than your own two feet,” said Anne Morand, curator of art at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Even with some galleries closed until April for renovations, horses have been so integral to Western life and lore that it's impossible to visit the museum without seeing artwork devoted to the creatures or artifacts made for working with them.
As with dogs, humans hold horses in high esteem because of the long tradition people have of laboring and living with the animals.
“I think it's why this story about ... selling horse meat and having slaughters of horses for meat is so distasteful to so many people,” she said. “They're our friends and part of our family.”
Horses aren't just cultural icons and favored artistic subjects in North America. Norman's Mainsite Contemporary Art is the first venue for “Entre huellas y arenas” — or “Hoofprints in the sand” — a popular exhibit of large-scale equine photographs by two Peruvian artists.