Work From my Heart"
miles down a dirt road stands an isolated rustic log cabin, its
sole occupant busily painting and sculpting. In her mind, she sees
images of the past, passionate hardships and triumphs, partnerships
forged of adversity, people toiling, with animals sharing the load.
She embraces the images, gets her hands around them, and casts them
in bronze, paying emotional tribute to the nameless faces of the
scene exists only in Veryl Goodnight's mind. Instead, of a log cabin
at the end of 20 miles of dirt road, she lives and works with husband
Roger Brooks and a virtual menagerie of animals just miles from
the city lights of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
is a pilot, and sometimes we fly over Western trails," says
the 53-year-old Colorado native. "I'm familiar with history,
and I'm in the air seeing it all from a distance, but in my mind
and heart, I'm in a wagon going across the prairie. Physically,
I'm in one century and mentally I'm in another. It seems to be a
calling, and there's a real intensity on animals.
regards animals almost as co-partners in Western settlement and
many of her sculptures suggest a symbiosis between animals and women,
both of whom often shared day-to-day existence and work. "The
grocery store of the pioneer women was in their backyard -the garden,
chickens, and milk cows," she says. Animals were often more
than a source of food, however. In fact, historians claim that Charlie
Goodnight's wife, the only white woman for miles, had lengthy conversations
with her chickens. "After having chickens model in my studio,
I can understand why. The soft clucking is one of the most peaceful
sounds I've experienced.
heritage and the love of animals launched Goodnight on one of her
most intense research projects, Back From the Brink, a portrait
of Mary Ann Goodnight nurturing a bison calf. The in-depth study
included raising Charlie, a stray 7-day-old bison calf that Goodnight
and Roger brought back from Idaho in Roger's plane. Once the year-old
bison was introduced back into the wild, he injured himself, running
into a steel pipe fence, so Charlie and Roger are now a regular
team on hikes up the arroyos near home.
writes in her essay, Saviors of the Southern Bison Herd: Colonel
Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight, "My love affair with bison
began innocently enough. A friend sent me a copy of the January
2000 issue of Texas Highways containing an extensive article on
the Goodnights. As a distant relative of Colonel Goodnight, I was
familiar with his interest in buffalo. However, I had never heard
the story of how his wife, Mary Ann, persuaded him to rescue a few
buffalo orphans for her to raise and protect from sure slaughter
by the hide hunters. As a sculptor of Western women and animals,
this vision was-hands down-mine to create."
is licensed to keep wild animals at her 10-acre ranch, so she definitely
gets up close and personal with her models. Horses, cats, dogs,
and a bison herd of one are steady company -family, really -and
Goodnight's art reflects a keen appreciation of animals and their
unique partnership with humans. Interestingly, when she was commissioned
to create a monument to the demise of the Berlin Wall, Goodnight
instinctively chose animals to convey the sentiment. That monument,
The Day the Wall Came Down, portrays five free-spirited horses
jumping over the rubble of the collapsed wall. One casting of the
monument stands at the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas,
the other is on display at the Allied Museum in Berlin.
took the piece over in a C-17 cargo plane, and it was just press
people, the Air Force personnel, Roger and I," Goodnight says.
"It was the fiftieth anniversary of the Berlin airlift, and
George Bush came over and unveiled the piece." Since being
put in place in Germany, the monument has attracted worldwide attention
for its theme and inspiration, and Goodnight is pleased that her
sculpture brings a compelling message to international diplomacy.
put a lot of heart and soul into my work," Goodnight says.
"I work from life first and second, I work from my heart. I'm
not into doing something commercial. I have to feel it to do it."
Goodnight's feelings about women appear most evident in the Women
of the West series, which she started in 1984 with a gentle
depiction of a pioneer woman reaching out to a fawn. Goodnight's
intent was to portray compassion and vulnerability and, again, the
links between humans and animals.
Goodnight's Trail Trilogy makes strong statements about the women
of the West: their courage, determination, and fulfillment. One
piece, for example, reminds viewers of the hard road leading West,
the travails along the way, and the tears that mixed with the dust
of the trail. No viewer can ignore the pain and triumph written
in bronze. For further expression, Goodnight has take to writing
verse to accompany each piece. It is as if she is driven to recreate
not only the scene, but the passion of an era.
by success in the Western art world, Goodnight hasn't strayed far
from her roots. The Denver kid originally drew horses with a pencil,
noting that it was the closest she could get at the time to having
a horse of her own. Drawing turned to sculpting in the snow, with
an intense push to capture the true anatomy. At 16, Goodnight earned
the Best of Show honors at a sidewalk art show, paving the way for
her high school graduation, she hatched her plan to go to art school
at the University of Colorado. The focus at that time, however,
was abstract art, which was a turnoff for Goodnight, who opted for
business college as a practical approach, with her dad advising
her to get further art training by working individually with artists.
The formula seemed a good one and, to this day, Goodnight credits
her father's wisdom and artist peers' willingness to share their
knowledge, as essential ingredients of her success.
prescribed road led her to painting first, and she took art classes
at night, feeding off the inspiration of other artists she met.
By age 20, she had her own studio, but a restlessness to gain a
better background in anatomy mover her into sculpting in 1982. Goodnight
was hooked. Fittingly, her father again lent his influence, assisting
his daughter in cobbling together the armature for her first wildlife
sculpture. Today, it is somewhat ironic that Goodnight has made
her name in sculpture, but has lately come full circle and is back
at the easel. Her upcoming show, at a gallery in Jackson, Wyoming,
will feature both bronzes and oils.
the reverse of where I first started," Goodnight says of her
re-entry into painting. "Sculpting used to be a hobby and painting
was first; now it's reversed. In my painting, I am somewhat looser
than when I sculpt." Of her return to painting, she admits
that "plein air is instant gratification; a painting can take
me three hours instead of the three months for a sculpture. But
my pride is on the line with this show, and I don't want people
to say, 'Veryl, keep your day job.' I want to be ready."
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