Triqueta (Detail pastel)
The process of composing a portrait is rather like the timeless symbol of Celtic knots. These ancient symbols are made up of energetic lines that are interwoven, forming a pattern that has a precision and a symbolic meaning. In composing a portrait, I seek to determine which images, whether photographic references, or imaginary and visionary, can be woven together in a work of art to express the elements of a love story between a person and their horse.
Cathie and Chief
Conversations and Visions
As I prepared for Chief’s portrait, his owner Cathie and I shared many conversations and emails about how she and Chief found each other and stories of how they shared their life together. Cathie said Chief taught her what a loving relationship could be, and about the true connection that was possible when she released her expectations.
When someone commissions a portrait, divine timing comes into play. Sometimes I paint horses who are in the prime of their life, but often it is when their life is coming to a close that the desire for a portrait becomes a focal point. Most of the horses I paint (and their people) I never get to meet in person, but Cathie lived nearby so I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet Chief. Chief was aging and had some health issues. I took some pictures of him, but more importantly, I gained a sense of Chief’s nature and his relationship with Cathie. When Chief passed away months later, Cathie told me that having the portrait scheduled allowed her to have something positive to look forward to.
Beginning the Journey
Usually I begin the portrait process with a meditation with the horse. But this time, I felt Cathie could take the lead with her own connections. So I asked Cathie what elements held meaning for her in her life and with Chief. She journaled and considered and then chose these aspects.
The totem energy of owl
Maple trees and the seasons of autumn turning to winter
The Triqueta Celtic knot
Visions and Guidance from Chief
I meditated with Chief’s spirit and I asked him to share what these elements meant to him in the context of his relationship with Cathie. The visions and insights were surprising and meaningful.
The first impression I received from Chief showed me an image of Cathie as a happy child. I felt brought out the child in Cathie’s heart by sharing the love, joy, and trust between best friends.
The Meaning of Owl
Cathie shared with me that the owl represented a divine connection to her dearly departed friend, Mary, who was also a horsewoman. Cathie told me she had found an owl feather at the entrance to her barn the day after Mary had passed, and for two years since.
Owl's wing (Detail pastel)
Guidance from Chief
In my meditation I saw a vision of an owl's wing with light rays streaming from the spaces between the feathers. My interpretation was the owl spirit symbolized the ability to perceive circumstances with clear perception and perspective of what is. There can be a sacred balance present, even when things do not appear to be in balance.
The Trees and the Seasons
Cathie loved the feeling of autumn to winter being a time of transition. Maple trees recalled her New Hampshire birthplace, and the birthplace of the Morgan breed.
Leaf (Detail Pastel)
Guidance from Chief
In my meditation I saw visions of leaves hanging tentatively on their branches as the sunlight came through them. My interpretation was that autumn teaches about the suspension of time and the passage of time. The leaf holds the memory of summer, and for a time that memory is stored in the leaf. It shines red and gold, suspended, changing, and aging each day and night as the weather changes. Then the energy of the leaf is returned to the tree, and the leaf is released to nourish the soil. It is the natural cycle of life and death. I realized, that just as the tree stores its energy, we hold and store our memories. They come, they shine brightly in our conscious awareness, and then they are tucked away to be stored within, like the vital energy of the trees.
Cathie related that to her the triqueta represented the 3 phases of feminine life, the unity of mind, body and spirit, and the interconnection of her spirit with Chief’s.
Triqueta (detail pastel)
Guidance from Chief
My interpretation was that beyond the archetypal meaning of the triskele as Maiden, Mother, and Wise Woman, this symbol represents the wisdom earned from the journey of their relationship. and also reflects the three stages of Cathie’s life.
Musing on these insights brought to mind my own relationships with my departed horses and Cathie’s long-time relationship with Chief. I realized the Maiden, Mother, and Wise Woman, could also represent the stages women go through in our relationship with a horse. The early love we feel is like the Maiden, falling in love and learning how to be in a loving relationship. That love matures as Mother, expressed as we caretake and nurture our horses in their role as our beloved "child". Then in time becoming the Wise Woman, in receiving the wisdom gained from spending our lives together.
Cathie resonated with my impressions as a confirmation of her experiences with Chief as well as their continued connection in spirit. These insights were essential for me to explore the visual concepts that could represent these ideas.
In my thoughts and my creative process, these symbolic ideas from Cathie and Chief's relationship blended with my own experiences. The concepts evolved into the visual patterns that formed the composition. Becoming a creation that is contained like a Celtic knot, made up of interwoven energetic lines of infinity that have no beginning, and no end. In that process, the portrait takes on a life of its own. It becomes a third entity, born of the relationships. My role then is that of a midwife, ushering this new creation into form.
Cathie told me that that some of the most cherished times she spent with Chief were in quiet communion. This became the perfect title for the work of art that gives Cathie a tangible reminder of her love for Chief, and the sacred practice he has inspired.
Read Part Two ~ Creating Quiet Communion