Thoughts from Laura
In my childhood, I was consumed equally by horses and nature. Early on, my hands were always full of sticks, rocks and clay from the creek. Their textures and shape mesmerized me. Later, I began to use these items as building blocks for fairy houses in the woods by my house.
This process was reversed with horses. My eyes loved them before my hands could, so I drew them with pencils obsessively. I studied photographs and artists’ drawings and statues of every breed and honed in on the tiniest of details: curve of the hock joint, the definition of the tendons in the legs and the shape of the powerful haunches and shoulders. Over and over again I practiced capturing the nobility of expression and the beauty of horses’ heads and faces.
In 3rd grade I made my first attempt at sculpting; something I’ll always remember. All the students were given a chunk of red “school” clay and told to make an animal. I held it in my hands and rolled it around, then set it down before me on my desk. I noticed that two impressions made by my thumbs seemed to form the snout of a dog’s head, a Boxer. Starting there, I pulled it out longer, then formed the forehead, the eye sockets and finally the ears. The process seemed magical, like it happened all by itself, exterior to me.
It wasn’t until I was 10 that I experienced time alone with horses to pet them, brush them, feel their shape under my hands and get to know their character. Now the 2 dimensional details in photos and drawings synched up with the actual shapes, curves, and textures. An indescribable transformation had occurred in my consciousness. This was deepened and intensified once I began riding and soaking up the experience of horses with my whole body. The way to express this knowledge most completely was through sculpting. Without training, I sculpted a large horse head and a scene of two horses at a stream.
I was in my mid-twenties and in a college art appreciation course when I fell in love with the sculptures of Rodin. He conveyed the movement, weight and shape of human bodies like no other artist. I gathered his images around me, drank them in and dreamed of sculpting. I visited the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on a trip to Washington, DC and walked around Rodin’s pieces. I admit I even touched a couple. I had to feel the curves under my hands.
The next spring, under the tutelage of Alan LeQuire, a well-known figure sculptor in Nashville, TN, I struggled with the awkward nature of looking at a live model and transferring what I was seeing into a clay sculpture. That process was unnatural to me. I was frustrated but I could not give up on sculpting. Six years later in Berkeley, CA I found some satisfaction in a handbuilding class with Ericka Clark Shaw. I extended this once I returned to Winston-Salem by taking handbuilding with Warren Moyer. I made sculptural vessels using my new skills and techniques. But I still longed to make figurative sculptures of animals that would express my experience of intimacy with them.
Creating in clay was my primary form of artistic expression until faced with hundreds of pounds of wool from my father-in-law’s sheep. In my efforts to find a way to use the yearly renewable resource, I discovered the technique of needle felting whereby wool is dry felted with thousands of insertions by hand of a special needle. A fiber artist demonstrated the technique for me and I was amazed that the physical make up of wool when stabbed by this needle would matt together into shapes that she controlled. I experienced a feeling of elation and joy in relation to art-making like never before.
This medium and technique affords me the kind of control I’ve longed for when sculpting. I am able to felt legs so dense that the animals stand up without armatures. Out of this grew my current focus on animal sculptures from wool, the greatest number being commissioned portraits of pets. Most are miniatures ranging in size from 3.5” tall to 5” tall and taking upwards of 40 hours to complete. Larger pieces have taken me 80 to 150+ hours. I’m still the realist I was from the beginning using photographs to create with which works perfectly for pet portraits. I have honed my skills to take on larger more detailed projects like elephants and now finally horses!
Today that mysterious process of taking what I see and transforming it into a sculpture continues to amaze me.