The focus is on horses at the Equis Art Gallery in the Village of Red Hook. But when gallery-owner and photographer Juliet R. Harrison gets inquiries from artists who want to show their work there (and she gets five to ten such requests every week), the criteria she uses for choosing work include whether it transcends the horse-themed collectible market. Harrison’s vision for her gallery is that art collectors in general “should be able to come in and see the value of this work whether they love horses or not.”
As an ardent lifelong horse-lover, Harrison responds to work that demonstrates the artist’s understanding of the anatomy of a horse, the muscles and bone structure, how the horse moves and its personality. But accurate depiction of a horse’s form is not enough; the Modernist photographer’s eye in her digs deeper when it comes to the images that she promotes. Her own photographs portray the horse in a nontraditional way, and she looks for the same quality in the artists she represents. When it comes down to it, “I have to really believe in the work and want to sell it,” she says. “It has to be something I like, that I’d want to hang in my own home.”
Keeping the work in the gallery within her own aesthetic also means that Harrison carries a number of vintage jewelry pieces and ornamental items, many from her personal collection acquired over time and most having something to do with horses. Along with various pins and badges, there’s a pair of chrome horse heads once used as car ornamentation, decorative carved wooden stirrups with etched metal straps and a vintage Western headstall and bit that can actually be used or just admired as form.
What are not on view are traditional sporting images or the “syrupy, sentimental stuff,” as Harrison puts it: those images of wild mustangs or windswept ponies so beloved of horse-crazy teenage girls. “There are plenty of other galleries that carry that point of view, but this is the only gallery of equine art anywhere in the world that has this nontraditional point of view.”
As with any niche business, the Internet makes her customer base worldwide; but Harrison says that it was very important to her to open a local storefront, too. A native of Long Island, she has lived in the mid-Hudson region for more than 25 years, and Red Hook is her neighborhood. “One of the reasons I opened the gallery was because I’ve been very much immersed in the community here, and I think destination businesses are a wonderful way to bring people into an area who will then discover what else is here. I have people that travel some distance just to come to the gallery, and others come in who were driving through and saw the big horse head on the sign and stopped to see what it was about.”
The Equis Art Gallery opened in February of 2014, housed at first in one room of an artists’ collective space in Red Hook. After expanding there to a second room, Harrison then moved to the current location at 15 West Market Street last September. Prices for the art run from $500 to $1,000 on average, but there are works available in a wide range of prices. “I try to find ways it can be affordable for anyone,” she says. “I have original artwork [small works on paper] for as low as $45 that someone could buy for a horse-crazy kid, or to give to their trainer or teacher as a gift.”
At the other end of the scale, she has an $18,500 painting by Patricia Powers. The eight-foot-tall work is Noticing My Bones, a dramatic oil-on-panel four feet wide that depicts a horse leaping overhead, coming toward the viewer, as seen through an archway from below. Powers is probably the most established horse artist represented at the Equis Art Gallery, her work widely collected internationally for some 30 years now. The Hudson-based artist is currently represented only by Harrison, “which is kind of fantastic for me,” she says.
Another prominent horse artist represented at the gallery is Kathi Peters from Maine, whose casein, ink and acrylic paintings on paper or canvas depict horses from sometimes-unusual angles in painterly scenes of unexpected coloration. Peters is also known for her expertly delineated papercut works with horse themes.
Susan Leyland is another well-known equine artist represented. British-born but residing in Italy, her finely wrought terra cotta sculpture Bucephalus Wins is characteristic of the Classical style of ancient Greek and Roman works. Several years ago the artist was commissioned to create a larger-than-life memorial to the warhorses of World War I for a community in England. There are also some lovely mixed-media drawings by Leyland available.
And then there is Harrison’s own work. She photographs in black-and-white on film only, developing the images herself in the darkroom and printing them in small editions on silver gelatin paper. Works to be used for digital purposes are scanned. On display in the gallery are a series of small works printed on aluminum, from a group she calls the High-Key Horse series – for the high-key lighting in the shots – taken at the HITS showgrounds in Saugerties, from the walkway bridge overlooking the entrance point for the riders as they enter or leave the ring.
Harrison has a related series of images that she calls the Vertigo series, in which the viewer’s sense of balance and position relative to the horse is distorted, the effect meant to encourage rethinking our expectations of horse-and-human interactions. Eventually the artist would like to see the images printed life-sized on metal, with the viewer feeling that they were “falling into the images or they were falling toward you.”
Another series, Equiscapes, moves in so closely on details of the horse’s body that the sinuous forms abstracted create a sort of landscape effect. And Shadow Dancing, Harrison’s current work-in-progress series, is beautifully evocative: mysterious images more about the shadow cast by the horse and its movement than the horse itself.
Works on exhibit are changed around once a month or so. The Equis Art Gallery is open five days a week; but calling ahead is advisable in the month of February, as it may be closed then for several weeks.