THE ARTIST'S EYE: “I think every artist is inspired by what they are passionate about,” Emma Tate says, “and for me that’s horses.”
Story by Janis Barth
Take the gravel path west from the parking lot at the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park, and follow a narrow trail through a thicket of trees pinned with silver badges, each bearing a single verb. (Drool! Snap!)
Walk a bit further and there it is, where the woods open into a small clearing: a life-sized white horse surging from the ground. Two hands reach out through an opening in his chest, one holding a beating heart. An elbow belonging to one of the hands pushes against the left side of the horse’s neck. Look closely, and the shadow of a human face emerges from the other side.
Emma Tate sculpted the horse in terra cotta with a fine white glaze. It’s the second sculpture she ever made and, when she sees it now, the distance of years has not weathered its beauty or the message the horse carries.
Many people, she knows, believe the hands are wrenching the horse’s heart from his body. But in truth, this sculpture is a love story: The hands are offering their human heart to the horse.
“It’s about becoming one – the rider
and the horse becoming one,” Tate says,
running her hand over the clay spikes
of the mane. “It looks very morbid, like
she’s ripping his heart out, but it’s really
“... A horse is just a part of you after
a while. This is about the horse and rider
giving their trust to one another.”
The horse is Figaro, the horse of her
childhood, the one whose name she
still carries on a brass tag on her
keyring. She grew up in Cazenovia,
where her mother taught dressage and
her father was a farrier. Figaro, she says,
was an “amazing horse,” a big bay
Dutch Warmblood who carried her in the years after Pony Club to the Junior Championship and the Young Rider regional dressage team.
He wasn’t the easiest horse to ride or the fanciest, she recalls with a smile. “But I learned how to ride him at each stage of his life,” Tate says, and he returned the favor, a faithful four-legged soul with whom she shared that moment only riders understand – of becoming “one mind, one energy, one fluid motion.”
In college though, she turned in other directions, studying exercise science and competing on the track team in pole vaulting. She took some art classes, but never tried her hand at sculpture until her senior year. Her first piece, Tate says, “was a life-size portrait of myself singing.”
The second was Figaro, and horses have continued to be her muse and inspiration. She moved to the Netherlands after college to continue her dressage training and created, in Amsterdam, a home and an art studio. Family and New York summers draw her back to Cazenovia. Horses have been the constant.
And so, among her current works, there is
Story Hour – a bust with a distinctly
mischievous air – named after the “sassy,
hot-headed but extremely reliable pony”
who came into Tate’s life when she was 9
and the pony was 24. And there is a worn
riding boot sculpted in fine white clay,
a mare hand-painted in blue vines and a
miniature herd of mustangs.
A pair of sculptures commissioned by Brooke
were sold at the World Equestrian Games
this September to benefit the international
charity, which acts on behalf of working
horses and donkeys.
“I think every artist is inspired by what they are passionate about, and for me that’s horses,” Tate says. “The art is my way of keeping myself close to them, even when I can’t ride or own a horse right now.”
She sculpts her pieces whole. Once the sculpture is finished and firmed, she slices it into pieces, hollows out each piece and puts it all back together. This part, Tate has said, is always the most interesting to her “because more often than not it turns out differently than imagined.”
Some sculptures are smoothed. Others, the slices remain a striking artistic element, almost as if the figure is bandaged or about to unspool.
“People have different ideas: Is it a puzzle? Is it a mummy? And it’s a way to start a conversation about the piece,” Tate says. “Now I always have a slice in something.”
It is a way, too, of looking at life and art: A whole divided, creating something new, beautiful and unique but always connected to its beginning. Becoming One, the name that Tate gave to that first sculpture of horse and human heart, is among those moorings.
In seven years outside, small pieces have chipped from the edges, and patches of glaze have flaked away to reveal the red terracotta beneath. On this late summer day, the skies are low, and the clouds are about to deliver a promised rain. Turning back at the edge of lawn to the little grove of hardwoods, the sculpture glows white beneath the sheltering leaves. Past perfect.