Taming Wild: A Work-in-Progress
I have enjoyed full-time, uninterrupted work on Taming Wild since the end of August, with the exception of a week in CO with our kids.
For some reason, work on this painting is more difficult to accomplish with the kind of stops & starts that happen all during the busy, amazing Maine summertime. The results of my work are much more satisfying with the momentum of a daily routine, maybe because there is another layer of purpose for this painting. I’m doing something that I’ve never done before: the saddle’s embellishment is another artists’ work: I’m interpreting his leather carving into a watercolor painting, and I want to do that in a way that honors his recognizable, distinctive style. At the same time, I’m taking creative license with the sensuous, nouveau flow of the botanical elements and making it mine.
I was exposed to leather carving as a Dakota child, and it resonates for me as a well-established decorative Western style, although the origin of highly prized and sought after, refined and embellished saddle-making began in Mexico during the sixteenth century. That was the beginning of a true atelier or “shop-marked” system. Saddles that came from specific Mexican shops bore the shop stamp, or maker’s mark — not the individual employee makers’ names. This method spread to the United States and continues today. I haven’t found a maker’s mark or any kind of signature on K’s saddle in any of the usual places, but it’s the best example of the genre that I’ve ever seen.
When Scott saw how thrilled I was to rediscover my love of saddles, all of the emotional connection and love for horses, and a strong sense of prairie that they represent for me, he surprised me with this beautiful book of saddles that are lavishly adorned with leather carving— as well as etched silver and other metals: The Art of The Western Saddle by Bill Reynolds.
Most of the saddles featured in this book were commissioned: they are prized, ceremonial saddles; not for everyday riding, or work-related riding, but “Sunday’s Best!” I studied the pictures looking for variations of style, within the forum of botanic leather carving, and found them to be very distinctive and immediately recognizable. The best part is that I believe the saddle I got from my friend, K, is carved by the same artist whose work is included in this book on pages 34 & 35. All of the elements of style are recognizable, albeit tighter, more refined, and showing more relief due to the dyed field behind the carving. This saddle also features a pattern of silver conchas around the skirts and down through the stirrup cover. The book credits the date and work to C.E. Coggshall, the original makers of the Coggshall Saddle, and the business: Miles City Saddlery, in Montana since 1909. The caption date of the saddle on pages 34 & 35 is 1940.
I love K’s saddle more than any of those featured in the book because it’s a working saddle — with all of the usual signs of wear and rub from years of riding. It’s more valuable to me as a metaphor, because the visual evidence of use helps me articulate the abstract spirit of the object that I’m attempting to infuse with my own thoughts, perspective, and emotional connections to this beautiful object. Now that I’m experiencing immersion, the stylized botanicals feel very Art Nouveau — not the way I originally thought of it at all, but definitely a factor in their appeal.
It’s really hard to leave this painting now; I’m dedicated to the machinations of using more than 30 different mixed browns to nuance and define the relief of carved leather. My saddle is beginning to come to life nicely. I hate giving up the clarity of purpose and momentum that I have going on, but it will be waiting for me to come back to work again in the spring. Right now, winter is closing in and we’re returning to our life in Brooklyn — make that “Brooklyn in a bubble” — as described on SNL. Bettah than Canada, methinks.