By Molly Priddy, 2-02-12
||Caption: “Horses Come Dancing” - Courtesy of the Montana Secretary of State’s Office
It is said that life imitates art, but Betsey Hurd will tell you that her paintings seek to imitate the nuances of her very equestrian life. Horses are more than half-ton herbivores to her; they are inspiration and a way of life.
Hurd was recently chosen as this year’s Treasured Montana Artist, an honor bestowed by Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. An exhibit of Hurd’s work will be on display until May 2012 in the front lobby of McCulloch’s office, located in the state Capitol in Helena.
The public is invited to view Hurd’s work, free of charge.
Horses and art have been strong forces throughout Hurd’s life. Growing up in Virginia, she participated in English-style riding and fox hunting.
“I was a horse-crazy girl my whole life,” Hurd said in an interview last week.
Her mother was a fashion artist, and Hurd said one of her earliest memories is of her mother curving her tiny hand around a pencil or crayon and encouraging her to draw.
In 1979, Hurd moved to study ceramics at the University of Montana, under the tutelage of Rudy Autio. She earned degrees in ceramics and drawing, and also created bronze sculptures.
Now, most of Hurd’s artistic energy is focused on painting her favorite subjects: Pearl, Madeleine and Henry, her draft-cross horses.
“They always say, ‘Write what you know,’” Hurd said. “I think art falls in the same category; I’ve just always been a farm kid.”
Her work is featured in permanent collections at the White House in Washington, D.C.; the Nicolaysen Museum in Casper, Wyo.; the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell; and the Paris Gibson Museum of Art in Great Falls.
Locally, her work can also be found in the Jest Gallery in Whitefish and at ARTfusion in Bigfork.
Hurd splits her time between Northwest Montana and Livingston, with summers spent ranging into the Salish Mountains from her 40-acre property around Patrick Creek south of Kalispell.
Every day of summer is spent riding her horses, Hurd said, so it only makes sense that the beauty and drama of Montana’s landscape would seep into her paintings.
“When I’m riding, of course the landscape is right in front of me. It’s a wonderful way to multi-task,” she said. “Montana is beautiful in every direction. I think I’m just absorbing that while I’m riding.”
But horses are the stars, and Hurd is less interested in creating detailed, realistic replicas of the creatures than she is in capturing how the animals emote and communicate.
A flick of the ear or shake of the head can speak volumes for them, Hurd said.
“What I’m interested in is the gesture and the movement and the emotion. Horses are very emotional and emotionally present animals,” Hurd said. “I’ve spent a lot of time just watching them instead of watching them with people. They have all this communication going on that is just about physical posturing.”
Her paintings show horses in motion in eye-catching colors, which Secretary of State McCulloch said is one of the reasons she chose Hurd’s entry when searching for this year’s Treasured Montana Artist.
“Horses are a staple in Montana,” McCulloch said in a prepared statement. “We either own them, or watch them as we drive past fields and pastures. They epitomize the notion of freedom and spirit, and Betsey is spot-on in her interpretation.”
Hurd said she sent examples of her work to the secretary of state’s office at the urging of a friend, and was selected out of roughly 200 entries. McCulloch, who has been running the program since 2009, should be commended for supporting the arts, Hurd said.
The artist plans on participating in the quick draw event for Billings’ Yellowstone Art Museum in March and will likely have work available at The Event at Rebecca Farm this summer.
Until then, Hurd will spend her winter riding her horses English-style indoors. And when she needs inspiration, or wants to observe the animals in their enigmatic communication, all she has to do is look outside.
“The horses are just right out the door,” Hurd said. “I can just leave the door open and paint them.”
For more information on the Treasured Montana Artist exhibit, visit www.sos.mt.gov/Gallery
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