In the gauntlet of time
Unforeseen allies appear
Our guides and guardians
Offer love ~ Conquer fear
Led by wisdom from sources
More ancient than we
Ever standing at crossroads
We cannot see
We are given the freedom
To make choices in trust
Gaining insight through courage
To move forward we must
The patterns are formed
Through our relations we learn
That all is connected
Around every turn
~ Kim McElroy
The following is the story of the creation of “Crossroads” which was commissioned as a portrait of Eleanor’s four mares.
My insights are interspersed with comments in purple from Eleanor’s emails as we corresponded about the composition over time prior to the final sketches.
Eleanor contacted me in 2006 after reading an article about my art. She wanted to commission a work of art that would portray her four mares together. Eleanor’s horses were her Arabian mare named Dorie (who was in spirit), Mikey – Dorie’s daughter – also an Arabian, Gidget – a Quarterhorse mare, and Fine Time – a Quarterhorse mare, (shown clockwise in the portrait starting from the top)
I had created a group portrait of 4 horses only once before, so I knew it was going to be quite a complex process of deciding what composition best captured their unique presence and story of their relationship with her, as well as their individual personality and beauty.
I went to visit Eleanor and her horses and I photographed her 3 mares. Dorie had passed away a year before so I chose a photograph Eleanor had from their early years together .
As we got to know each other I learned about Eleanor’s horses and the history that had brought them all together over the years. We also talked about how Eleanor and I are both drawn to Celtic and Native American art and spiritual beliefs.
Eleanor had asked me to do a “Soul Essence” portrait of her mares. For this type of portrait I work with the mares in meditation to gain insight into what I am being called to create. This process never fails to provide me with inspiration and clarity. However, what neither Eleanor nor I foresaw is how intimately she would be involved in the imagery and composition.
In meditation with Eleanor’s horses I asked how best to create a portrait for Eleanor of all of them in one painting. I sensed that I was to be present with them all together, and they all wished to join me in the meditation, but Mikey was the main guide.
A story unfolded of another time and soul journey in which Eleanor was facing a life in which she would be stripped of the power to choose her future, but she escaped with the help of a beloved white mare who carrying her to safety at the risk of her own life. At their most perilous hour, horse and girl were rescued by women from a religious order and they were given sanctuary. The vision shifted to a glimpse years later when Eleanor, now as a member of the religious order, honored her beloved white mare’s crossing into spirit by spreading white rose petals on the surface of a moonlit lake.
I then beheld the image of a celtic knot pattern in a circle or square. I saw Eleanor’s horses woven into the pattern in each of the 4 directions. Dorie, the ancestral mare who is now in spirit was in the North, Fine Time was in the West, Gidget was in the East, and Mikey was in the South. I sensed something was to be in the center but at first I didn’t know what it was. I began to feel that the Celtic pattern was symbolic of how the four horses in Eleanor’s life were somehow connected. I asked if the white mare was the spirit of one of the horses now in Eleanor’s life. The awareness came that the white mare was spiritually and symbolically represented by all 4 of the horses in her life. The horses had come as guides and protectors for Eleanor at times in Eleanor’s life when she needed them and they needed her. They were all linked together by her love for them, and by her love and soul connection to the white mare. I felt somehow there would be a symbol of the white mare in the center of the circle.
When I shared this meditation with Eleanor she felt the symbolism was significant in her life. She felt my choice for the four directions also had a meaning for each of the horses and their traits and gifts.
I think the image of the circle and the 4 directions and the white horse in the center is beautiful, and it astounds me how closely it mirrors my own awareness of each of the mares and our connectedness. If you had asked me which one I see as reflective of which direction, I would have said exactly what you discerned. While my idiom has been more the Native American one, I have long been drawn to the ancient Celtic wisdom.
At first I had difficulty finding a circular image of celtic knots that was simple enough in order to not compete with the horses and to also permit me to somehow weave their images into the knots. I began researching celtic knot designs. I mentioned my dilemma to my friend Angela of Spirit Horse Design who weaves horse hair into celtic knots- she sent me a book on celtic designs and I found a celtic cross. I didn’t know the symbolism of the cross at first except that I knew it was a spiritual connection to the earth. In connection with the symbolism of the Native American medicine wheel, I decided to make the celtic cross in the colors of the four directions in Native American tradition.
During this time Eleanor ran across an article about the Celtic Cross which she sent to me. The symbolism of the cross was a perfect definition of how I envisioned her relationship with her mares and how it transcended time and space.
Since the circle of the Celtic cross is representative of integration and unity and the soul, it seems a perfect metaphor for my heart connection to my mares, to Horse.
THE CELTIC CROSS
The Celtic cross stands as a reminder of our relationship with the divine order of things.This sacred design has been discovered in Paleolithic rock carvings in Africa, on monuments and seals of ancient Sumeria, and on Bronze Age carvings and coins from Scandinavia to Crete.
The circle, one and indivisible, is the symbol of the undifferentiated whole, the mystery of unity underlying our experience of the physical world. It is the eternal matrix of Being that exists beyond time and space, and it is also the pregnant womb that gives birth to the world of phenomena…that we call reality. The square or cross represents this differentiated world arising out of the circle, as the One separates into the opposites creating space and the four directions. It is, in fact, a map of the universe, a cosmological blueprint that encodes the mysteries of heaven and earth….The pattern reflects the template of a perfect and ordered cosmos which serves as a reminder of our relationship to the original blueprint of the universe. Every living thing is composed of repeating patterns — the rhythmic steps of the universal dance.
Naming it a mandala, from the Sanskrit word meaning circle, C.G. Jung discovered that these images arise when special circumstances cause us to tap into a deeper layer of consciousness. We see it in works of religious art throughout the world, including the sand-paintings of the Navajo people and also on the Aztec calendar. On the journey toward wholeness, visions of mandalas express experiences of integration and unity….The circle represents the soul, that part of ourselves which endures beyond time and space….The circle-cross is a primary symbol of the spiritual journey.
From an article in Parabola by Mara Freeman, Fall 2003
I began to create photo montages of the mares images woven into the celtic cross. This was challenging as I only had one photo of Dorie to choose from that was of a portrait caliber. Everything in the composition therefore revolved around her. It just happened that I had photographed an image of her daughter Mikey in the same frontal pose. This provided the balance of North and South. Then it became clear the the photos of Fine Time and Gidget could be more horizontal and facing each other from the horizontal cross.
Then I realized that the white mare could be represented by the moon, and at first I was going to create the moon as the entire background behind the celtic cross. Amazingly, Eleanor shared that a few years before she had done a sketch of her own trying to convey the moon and a horse’s eye as one! It was as if she had known intuitively all along that there was something about the moon that was connected to her horses.
I love that you are working with the idea that the white mare shape shifts into the moon and/or the moon into her, so they are one and the same. I would say that the moon never fails to connect me to Spirit, even when I feel removed in the rest of my experience from my spiritual life from time to time. And I am always aware that the mares do the same thing for me, unfailingly, which means that for me they and the moon are inextricably linked. And of course the moon is identified with the deep Feminine, which sources me (and I imagine them in a very organic way). I just found some sketches I did a few years ago (very rudimentary ones!) in which I was attempting to reflect the moon in a horse’s eye as if they were not entirely separate images.
Some time later Eleanor wrote to share an inspiration she’d had for another element for the painting, that of a wild bird totem for each of her mares. This was another key piece to their portrait creation…
As I was sitting there, in silence and openness, some “knowingness” came through that I want to share. It may have meaning for our project, considering how integral my horses are to my connectedness and wholeness. First, words presented themselves to me which encapsulated who each of the mares is to me: Dorie = wisdom and patience; Fine Time = truth and purity; Mikey = beauty and gentleness; Gidget = seeking and finding. Then, the image of a bird for each came to me: Dorie = owl; Fine Time = eagle; Mikey = dove; Gidget = hawk. I will let these thoughts speak to you, or not, as they will. It seemed important to me to share them, since the artistic interpretation flows through you while the essence of the mares is personal to me.
I loved this idea as I have often felt that horses as spiritual beings also have their own totem animals who are guides and protectors for them. I spent many hours researching stock photo imagery on www.dreamstime.com of wild birds that portrayed the spirits of each of the mares as well as harmoniously adding to the composition. It took some time to find the right birds that blended into the composition and yet also seemed to portray the individual spirits of the mares.
At first I added the birds in the directions corresponding with the horses, but the composition shifted and it became clear that in order for the horses to be the main focus, the birds had to move somewhere else.
But when I moved the birds, I felt that something was missing. The moon element in the background wasn’t enough anymore. I began searching again for more imagery – and in searching for the key word “moon” I serendipitously found the perfect image. I had come full circle back to the vision of the moonlit lake.
Then I knew that the birds needed to be colored like the sky in order to appear as spirits rather than real birds. And in order to not compete in color and focus with the horses.
Eleanor loved this composition most of all. Now I knew I was ready to begin the painting… and that is a journey in itself… so many decisions in each moment:
… what colors to make the four directions to not compete with the horses
… weaving in the imagery of the birds, choosing to keep only their eyes and beaks golden…
… choosing to paint the mares in all their sunlit glory to contrast with the moonlit light…
… and the final touches… the spirit shining through their eyes…
And…. a very happy customer!
Eleanor’s Comments about the final painting:
I became acquainted with Kim’s work a number of years ago through an interview I read with her in a magazine, and I was so moved by her spiritual approach to her art that I knew it would be a dream come true to have her paint my four horses. That was the beginning of a long term and lovely collaboration on a project very dear to my heart. Because we live near each other, Kim was able to meet and photograph three of my horses, but by that time I contacted her, my fourth one had passed on. Since Kim’s process is intuitive and visionary, however, she is able to capture the essence of a horse’s being anyway.
Due to my particular circumstances, “Crossroads” came into being over a period of several years. This actually turned out to be very interesting and beneficial as it allowed valuable insights, including meaningful and diverse elements included in the final piece, to reveal themselves gradually and gracefully. Kim has been lovely to work with, generous and patient throughout the long journey, always listening to my input so as to glean what was important to me and offering the benefit of her experience and wisdom in bringing the painting to fruition. Getting to know her in the course of the journey is a joyous and unanticipated gift.
As it happens, one of my other mares, the daughter of the one Kim never met, passed on shortly before the piece was completed, so to see both of them again at the unveiling was truly breathtaking. For me, “Crossroads” pulses with the aliveness of my four beautiful mares, as if they are coming right out of the painting, looking at me. To have them immortalized in this beautiful artwork is powerful, personal, and a treasure almost beyond words.
Thank you to Eleanor and her mares for such an amazing journey!
Postscript: Some time after I finished the painting – I went to see the movie “Snow White and the Huntsman”. In the movie there is a scene in which Snow White escapes riding a white horse to freedom, only to fall into a mire. This imagery was so much like my vision of Eleanor and the white mare it was uncanny.