Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Girl and Her Horses: Sarah Brander

(From The Way-Back Files: Hartford Woman, August 1989.)

                      Through that fast and final turn
                      Where mind and muscle start to burn,
                       It is heart alone that brings you to the roses.
                                        -- Bill Staines, “Heart Alone”


            People take her art seriously enough, says 17-year-old Sarah Brander of Tolland, Connecticut. When they first see her, though, they almost always have this “but-she’s-so-young” look plastered on their faces.

            “But I’ve never had a problem with anyone paying for a picture,” Brander adds. “I’ve always had a reasonable number of commissions.”

            What people don’t always take seriously is her subject: horses. And more horses. Staring out of the pastels….walking or cantering through pen-and-ink drawings…necks beautifully arched as they turn toward you, dark eyes practically talking to you….People often glance at Brander’s work and say, “Oh, that’s cute – she does a nice horse.” But that comment comes less frequently now that she has added landscapes, portraits, and still lifes to her repertoire.

            “I’d like to challenge myself,” says Brander, who has had several women artists as mentors. “And if I go to art school, I’m not going to be able to do horses. There’s only a certain amount of a crowd that’s going to like, buy, or commission a horse [painting or drawing].”

            Still, it’s a difficult transition for her to make. She has been drawing horses for the last four or five years and is so familiar with them, the work comes easily. And it’s clear from her conversation that that’s where her heart is.

            She talks about a picture that she exhibited at a Morgan horse convention. A man told her, “That’s a one-in-a-million picture. That’s the horse you see every morning when you go out to the barn. You don’t see the show horse with its face all oiled up and its ears up and its nostrils flared. You see that horse reaching out and saying, ‘Good morning’ to you.”

            Brander tries to bring something of the feeling she has for her own horses, April and Mr. Solo, to her commissioned work. She makes a point of talking to the owner about his or her horse so that she can get a sense of its personality. When it comes to making up a personality for a horse she’s drawing, however, she generally turns to her own horses for inspiration.

            “I see a lot of my horse, April, in that” -- Brander gestures toward a drawing – “because she means so much to me. And a lot of times when I’m drawing, I’ll be thinking of her, or I’ll have a picture of her there. Since she was the beginning of my art and the basis of it, a lot of it revolves around her.”

            This summer, while most high school students are working more conventional 9-to-5 jobs, Brander will be out in the field by her house with her sketch pad, trying to capture Mr. Solo’s fast-paced rippling show-horse moves or April’s quieter, gentler poses. She laughs about her unique summer job. “It’s probably a lot more work than some…but it’s going to take me some place. It’s something I can work on later.”

            Re-reading this interview, I found myself wondering what had become of the young girl who drew horses. So, when in doubt, Google. She popped up immediately – Based in upstate New York, Brander has a B. F. A. from the University of Massachusetts, and, yes, she’s still drawing and painting horses. In fact, according to her website, she “traveled to The Spanish Riding School of Vienna to gather a body of sketches of the famous Lippizan horses, known worldwide as ‘the white horses that dance’” as part of her senior thesis. Brander “visited The Federal Stud in Fiber, Austria, where the Lipizzaners are bred and born….amass[ing] a rich body of sketches and photographs, which became the source material for a series of prints, drawings, and paintings.” Her love of horses -- especially of her Morgan horses, who frequently find their way into her art  -- has indeed taken her places.