An International quarterly publication dedicated to presenting fine art
and the equestrian lifestyle inspired by the majestic beauty and love of the horse.

Skye, photgraphed by Brady Willette


The founding of America was based on the idea of freedom—freedom of choice, of thought, and of access. Who doesn’t take for granted the right to express ourselves or the ease of travel between our borders? But long ago, before barbed wire and the railway, before territories and Western states, the nomadic Indian and the once free roaming herds of mustangs moved through a land with no boundaries except mountains and rivers. Various tribes of Native Americans, and later, thousands of wild horses brought back to their prehistoric home by European settlers and released to feral status, claimed a continent in perfect harmony, living off the land, evolving by nature’s law. No wonder many see them both today as related in the enduring quest for freedom—a quest to live as the Creator intended.

Brady Willette Photographer & Digital Artist The War Pony Project

 

"Crow Pony I " ~ Brady Willette
"Crow Pony I " ~ Brady Willette


Minneapolis artist Brady Willette approaches the relationship of Indians and horses in his nearly life-size, color digital photographs of running horses decorated with Crow Indian war paint. They recall a time when horses, adorned for protection and decorated to secure success, carried warriors into battle. The photographs link the horse and the mark of the warrior upon him, a powerful iconography.

“Part of my passion for this project is the idea of freedom and dignity,” said Willette. “I worked with Kennard Real Bird in Montana, a member of the Crow Nation. He owned the horses. We had a simple arrangement. 'You do the horse, I'll take the pictures and create"Ready... " ~ Brady Willette the art.'"

Willette has had a successful career as a commercial photographer. Now, at 61, his most ardent goal is to make art, combining his talents toward something of value. The War Pony Project evolved as he assessed the circumstances of Native America and wild mustangs.

“The project came to fruition in August of 2009,” said Willette. “I approached the challenge armed with the highest-resolution Canon camera, a tripod and no expectations. I learned quickly that I needed to get the shot early, in the first ten or so passes. (The horses grew less cooperative by then.) The digitally painted backgrounds were the finishing step, a necessary part of the ultimate statement. Images were later printed as 20 x 30 inch or 40 x 60 inch prints.
 

“Most of all,” Willette added, “I wanted to make a contemporary connection between the Indian nation and the horse nation. To me, it’s about the loss of freedom, something I think everyone identifies with. I know I can’t stop thinking how badly things worked out for the Native Americans. The plight of our wild horses brings it all back.”

Currently, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, owns two of the 20 x 30 framed prints and has screened one of the images on a banner ten feet high that now graces the exterior, an honor celebrated at the heart of our nation’s capital .

Saving America's Mustangs
Mustang Monument Eco-Sanctuary, Elko, Nevada

Willette isn’t the only one whose awareness of injustice has fueled a larger initiative. Madeleine Pickens is a positive activist who has made it her life’s work to insure a future  or wild horses in Nevada. She is also known as Mrs. T. Boone Pickens, the wife of the famed Texas business magnate and financier, a man who is well-known for his philanthropic leadership in the areas of education, medical research and wildlife conservation.

“I immigrated to this country,” said Madeleine, with her notable British accent, “but long before that I was fascinated by Western film and culture. The frontier era was exciting and romantic. I believe it’s essential to preserve the cowboy way of life and that includes wild horses. There are those who think of them as a pestilence but as the world grows to be more and more reliant on technology, we need to preserve the environment. We neglect the past and what made us who we are. I see a deep connection between the horse and the Native American people who once lived on this land—it’s all about dignity.”
        

A great admirer of Indian culture, Pickens shares a vision of peace with Native American elder, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a man known around the world for his efforts to bring people together. Madeleine’s own efforts towards preservation resulted in the founding of SAM, “Saving America’s Mustangs,” a 501-C3 dedicated to creating a sanctuary for the wild ones. She has recently secured an area near Elko, Nevada, some one-million acres where herds can flourish, evolve, and help educate future generations. Much like a wildlife park, limited access will be allowed for viewing. The project is both a public and private partnership with a remarkable future and message. (www.savingamericasmustangs.org)
                
“We’re moving forward with the sanctuary,” continued Madeleine. “We’ve had the land for a year now and still need water pumps, fencing and other elements. There’s a lot of work to do but once we’re done, we want to be 100% sustainable. At present we already have 600 horses from the Paiute nation here under safekeeping. Most Americans don’t understand nomadic behavior, but like the Plains Indians, the horse needs to move around to live. By taking away the public lands where they once roamed, we destroy an ecosystem.”

“I’m a U.S. Army veteran,” said Travis, “and a former horseman. I have
a strong connection to horses. They were part of our military history, and
my peoples' history too. The Indian made the horse part of his mobility,
his existence. I believe we need to treat them as God’s creatures, so I offer
my prayers.”

Travis feels that horses have warrior spirits— that they are experts at survival and are vibrant and strong. "Each and every one is unique,” he reminds us. “Many carry larger than-life souls. In many ways, they are superior to us—that’s part of the problem. Ranchers can’t acknowledge that.”

Travis built two adobe tipis at the entrance to the Nevada sanctuary, creating a recognizable welcome on behalf of his people. “Wherever I go, I spread the word: at rendezvous, reenactments, and public gatherings. The horses need us. We are the only voice they have.”

“It takes positive action to honor this heritage,” added Pickens, “and help preserve the majesty of horse herds that are now disappearing while open lands shrink and respect for wild things wanes. I hope to change that.”

Karen Noles Native American Portrait Artist

Karen Noles of Montana loves horses and Native Americans, as well. Her portraits of Native American children, mothers, and grandmothers resonate with respect and nostalgia for a time that was; an interpretative peek into pre-reservation life when Indians lived in cultures based on hunting or herding. Most of her subjects hail from the Plains or Plateau tribes like the Salish, Kootenai, Blackfeet and Sioux. Her work is based on faultless research from books and artifacts that provide interior details, authenticity and accurate settings. She uses real Indian  children as models and often incorporates horses, a natural addition to portraits of tribes that depended on them. The expressions on the faces of her subjects are responses to Noles' own deep love of life and her focus on the good and the beautiful.
 

“I paint children because childhood is so short, so fleeting. My work is a way to keep the beauty and innocence of childhood alive just a while longer. By the time the paintings are done, I can feel the subjects looking back at me. Close-up views create a special kind of intimacy.”

Noles actually lives on the Flathead Indian Reservation and gets to know the parents of her subjects. They are usually delighted with what she does and she always sees to it that they receive a print. Prior to settling on the Reservation years earlier, she worked as a greeting card illustrator for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City and Buzza-Gibson in California but dreamed of moving to the Northwest to live a more rural life, and especially, to have a horse of her own. She realized all her dreams and more, keeping horses for 34 years. Today she is deeply connected to a people she admires, but mostly to the women. She prefers the feminine in her subject matter, a very conscious choice.

“So much of Western art was about men- hunters and warriors. I saw a lack of the feminine. Women and children are just as important. Being a woman, I felt a need to celebrate the nurturing spirit and knew I wanted to fill that void.”
 

Noles completes around ten paintings a year and is represented by galleries in Aspen, Colorado, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Las Vegas, Nevada. She paints in the classical style with slow drying glazes over an under painting, a meticulous and time-consuming process. But the finished works are triumphs of romanticized realism, capturing moments in time we can barely imagine.

Bruce King Contemporary Native American Artist

Native American artist Bruce King of Santa Fe paints intuitively, relying on the magic of thinned down oil paint and liquid medium to begin his enigmatic images of Indians on horseback. Descended from the Iroquois Confederacy, specifically the Wisconsin Oneida, he is long-time member of the Native American contemporary art movement and studied in an era with colleagues like Kevin Red Star, sculptor Doug Hyde, and the late TC Cannon. They were instructed by faculty whose work has become legendary- artists like Fritz Scholder and Earl Biss. But King is a master of many disciplines- an author, a philosopher and a playwright, and has spent a lifetime exploring the reclamation of Native American identity in this country. At one time, before a stint in the service, he was deeply involved in Native American politics, especially a kind of underground movement at the popular art school he and the others attended in Santa Fe during the Sixties, a turbulent time of militant re-identification for all of them.

King eventually moved to New York and got involved with theater, seeing the stage as a form of communication, and therefore, power. But after a tour in Vietnam in the Army, he came home to a different America and the goals of AIM (the American Indian movement) no longer resonated for him.

King’s personal history feeds into a mellow and mature approach to his work today; his work is gentle and spontaneous. He never forces the image but allows the discovery factor to reveal the image within that first random flow. Yet his colorful groups of mounted warriors speak clearly to his collectors from some common shared place.

“Each of us comes from some kind of tribal group,” said King. “We were all brothers until religion played into the separation. At one point we could all see the sacred in living things– it’s in our DNA.”

King’s work has a fleeting quality, as if a glimpse into some other time. “I don’t try to capture the moment,” he explains. “I go into the past and try to move forward. The man on his horse carries a great responsibility. The idea of the warrior is the restorer of harmony, of the responsibility to lead, and preserve the community. In Indian culture, to be a warrior was a calling and the horse elevated a man to it.”

When asked what his warriors have to say to us, the artist replied, “Great mystery is alive in the work. It’s everything that has lived already. We all must co-exist and exude a love for one another and for our Creator; a relationship deeper than the heart. I love horses but not any less than the buffalo. They have just as much right to be here as I do. We need collective respect for one another.”

Artists like King have the capacity to alert us to the warrior within ourselves; to listen and ask what counts. His work is a vibrant call to action for any who care to listen.

Canadian author J. Edward Chamberlain writes in “Horse—How the Horse Has Shaped Civilization” that the idea of the vanishing “wild” Indian was a staple of the early twentieth century, just as the vanishing of the untamed horse is of ours. And along with this notion goes a sense that the native horse, like the native people, must be saved, yet cannot be saved. The contradiction is based in part on an ideal in which purity is synonymous with the primitive and the civilized with the corrupt...horses embody the in-between, not only between wandering and settling down, but also between the fenced and the free. Wild horses provide us a connection to our shared past, the modern day wild horse providing a way of imagining what it was like to be truly free and wander with the herd in the field of our dreams.

Whether you agree with Chamberlain or not, something about the plight of any living thing forced to adapt to one world while being torn from another reverberates on a universal level. Perhaps that is the true function of art: to give an avenue of expression to explore what was, what is, and what might be once again."

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