MANCHESTER — With the Vermont Summer Festival — a.k.a the Dorset Horse show — now in full swing, and the summer racing season about to get underway in relatively nearby Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the time is perfect for a new art exhibit on — what else? — horses.
"The Untamed Horse" will be an exhibit that opens this weekend at the Helmholz Fine Art Gallery with an artist reception on Saturday, July 16, beginning at 5 p.m. It is a joint exhibit featuring the work of two artists: photographer Lisa Cueman of Dorset and sculptor/painter Rita Dee of Bennington.
"It's going to be the biggest installation of my career," said gallery owner Lisa Helmholz-Adams. "I've never done anything like this."
"This" will be an exhibit featuring six large sculptures made by Dee from pieces of driftwood she gathered from riverbanks and fashioned into likenesses of horses. The imposing sculptures are large and viewers will find themselves often looking upwards to catch the nuances of the effort needed to create them. The ones that are stained take 3-4 months to make — when she handpaints them it takes more like nine months to finish a piece, Dee said.
This will be her first exhibit in this area, she added.
Joining Dee's horse sculptures will be several large images by Lisa Cueman, an artist and photographer whose work has been exhibited here before, but this exhibit will offer five new images that will be produced as archival pigment ink prints in addition to her chromagenic color prints. Cueman has focused on capturing images of wild, untamed horses who live and roam along America's Outer Banks, islands off the coasts of the Carolinas.
Dee and Cueman both met origibnally about five years ago and bonded over their mutual love of horses, Dee said, recalling how the upcoming exhibit began. They discussed doing a show together but the right combination of time and circumstances never came together, until Dee teamed up with Lisa Helmholz-Adams, who has had one of Dee's large horse sculptures out on exhibit in front of her gallery for the past several months. Since Cueman was already one of her roster of artists, it was an obvious match to pair them together in a show, Helmholz-Adams said.
"Both admire each other's work and they wanted to collaborate," she said. Cueman showed Dee some new photos of horses from the Outer Banks and all through last winter Dee worked on her wooden sculptures based on or inspired by Cueman's photographs, Helmholz-Adams added.
Getting those photographs requires observation, preparation, patience and "a heavy dose of luck," Cueman said in an email. Her visually stunning closeups of the horses — descendants of Spanish horses who survived shipwrecks off the Atlantic coast during the 16-17th centuries when Spanish vessels were exploring the coastline in search of possible settlement sites — are remarkable for the detail and pinpoint sharpness she obtains — and preserves even when enlarged up to the 36x24" or even 60x40" images visitors to the exhibit will see.
Dee has been around horses ever since childhood, and as her artistic inclinations took root, she began painting them in oils. She evolved into doing the wooden sculptures — along with charcoal and ink drawings — after falling ill from the toxic substances in oil paints. The sculptures grew out of her drawings, she said.
"Sculptures are pretty much like 3-dimensional drawings so I pretty much put them together the way I would draw them on paper," she said. "I think as with everything, you have to study your subject inside out in order to understand it. I'm always studying the horse."
She obtains the raw meterials — the driftwood sticks she weaves together to create the large horse sculptures — from nearby streams such as the Walloomsac, or sometimes the Hudson River or the Somerset Reservoir. The challenge is to find the right combination of shapes, since she prefers to use the wood in its natural shape, rather than cutting or trimming the pieces to fit, she said.
The opening artist reception will last from 5 - 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 16 at the Helmholz Fine Art Gallery, which is located near the intersection of Depot Street and Richville Road, next door to the Ben and Jerries ice cream stand.
For more information, call the gallery at 802-855-1678, or visit helmholzfineart.com.