Kathleen Friedenberg - Bronze Alive
by L. A. Pomeroy
So macabre a resource has also provided sculptor Kathleen Friedenberg of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, with the ability to create horses that seemingly breathe in bronze. “If it isn’t alive, I’ve failed,” says the three-time consecutive recipient of the American Academy of Equine Arts “Award of Excellence.”
No stranger to the same processes as Stubbs, Kathleen began her professional career as a veterinary surgeon in England, and came to the U.S. on a Thouron scholarship to study equine (and human) orthopedics at the University of Pennsylvania. Those early years as a veterinary student were destined to become a tremendous asset to her later work. “I couldn’t do what I do now without it.” Ever the artist, she recalls sketching cadavers in great detail as a student, and getting substantial hands-on practice. “I needed a clear dissection to do a worthwhile drawing and my classmates were happy to give me the work,” she says with a wry chuckle.
Following marriage and study at a commercial art school, she spent several years doing medical and veterinary illustration, including illustrating three books, before a chance idea to take a night school class as a way of making new friends led to a new career. “I went into sculpting for fun, to enlarge my circle of friends, and to find others with a common interest. I’d say it has really worked out.”
Indeed. Readers of The Chronicle of the Horse recognize her work from 19 of its covers, and she has been featured in Equine (Fall 1989), Spur (July/August 1996), and Kentucky Horse Park’s Discover Horses, (Fall/Winter 2003), as well as Daphne S. Landis’ book Speaking for Themselves—The Artists of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
What has always spoken to her has been the horse. She took her first riding lessons by the age of five. “I don’t know where it comes from. It’s ingrained in me. It is that combination of beauty, power, and gentleness.”
Working in bronze, she has learned that replicating what nature has perfected is not always easy, particularly when capturing horses in motion. “A sculpture has to be mechanically sound,” she says about trying to emulate the equine physique of a broad, muscular torso balanced atop four delicate legs. “It is very tricky, especially if it’s a piece where the weight is going to be off center or, for instance, on one leg. That’s what gives a piece a sense of action and movement, but it requires thinking it through in advance, to plan how to make it work.”
Kathleen’s personal favorite, Legend, which she completed four years ago and depicts St. George on horseback battling the dragon, was the culmination of years of mulling ways to interpret the ancient legend. “A friend had commented that she didn’t know what all the fuss was about over this story, as most art depicts the dragon as smaller than George’s horse. So I thought, to really do it right, the dragon would have to be larger, and coming down on him.”
She does cede to some poetic license. In the legend, the lance used by St. George to slay the dragon was called Ascalon, but in designing the mechanics of her sculpture, she replaced the lance with a sword. “You can’t use a lance uphill, there’s no leverage,” she learned while researching her subject. To realistically duel the descending dragon, her St. George wields a sword. “It’s not the legend, but I tried to be consistent with the time period. His accoutrements are consistent with a fourth-century Roman Christian.”
At least she didn’t have to dissect any dragons.