Author Linda Kohanov Collaborates With Equine Artist Kim McElroy
The urge to be with horses can take hold at any age. These spirited creatures gallop through ancient myths, favorite childhood stories, wishes, dreams, and drawings. For many people, the desire recedes over time, hiding in a secret corner of the heart, ready to leap forward, suddenly, when a movie, photograph, or painting triggers emotions too complex to voice, yet too important to ignore.
Those lucky enough to own a horse would seem to have a better understanding of this longing, this mysterious promise of an ancient freedom and an even more ancient knowing. Yet a living, breathing mare or stallion is often more of an enigma than an imaginary one. Answers to the questions that horses pose, silently, relentlessly, to the human soul have always hovered just outside the scope of reason.
Since Linda Kohanov’s first book was published by New World Library in 2001, thousands of readers have told her that The Tao of Equus and Riding between the Worlds have helped them more clearly and consciously define the feelings and insights that horses evoke. Yet words alone can never do justice to the experiences people have with these remarkable beings. In fact, the surges of creativity that horses inspire can be explosive. For this reason, Linda has added a number of expressive arts activities to seminars and has amassed an extensive collection of horse artwork and photographs to show at lectures. Among the images that create the most powerful response are those by Kim McElroy.
Since 1987, Kim has received numerous awards for her equine art. Still, her most cherished accolades are the emotional reactions her work inspires in people who may never commission her, who may not, in fact, even own a horse that she would be able to paint. She receives daily emails and letters from people who share the profound impact her imagery has on their lives. Many collect her popular series of horse greeting cards distributed by The Leaning Tree. Her website, www.spiritofhorse.com, receives up to 6,000 visitors per month. These people spend an unprecedented amount of time at her site, breaking all the rules of internet statistics on the viewer’s attention span.
Though realistic in nature, Kim’s work is often mystical. Somehow, she’s able to draw out the horse’s essence, while also conveying the power and beauty of the physical form, offering timeless glimpses of the equine soul. On a recent tour of Western Canada and Northern Washington, Linda was pleased to have Kim show her artwork during several lectures and book signings. At Linda’s East West Bookstore signing in Seattle, the store’s event coordinator asked Kim if she’d ever considered creating a deck of horse divination cards.
“You’d think I’d be used to the strange twists and turns that happen when you let horses lead your life,” Linda laughs, “but this one really took me by surprise. I now find that the time I set aside in 2005 to write my third book will be used to create a deck of horse wisdom cards and the accompanying guidebook. It’s an engaging project. Kim has over 250 evocative pieces of original equine art depicting various colors, breeds, ages, and moods. Some of these paintings depict groups of horses interacting with the environment and with each other in symbolically significant ways. Centaurs, unicorns, fire horses, lightening horses, and horses surging from ocean waves (inspired by Greek myths crediting the sea god Poseidon as the creator of the horse) are among those pieces that explore the mythic/archetypal dimension. If everything unfolds according to plan, we should be able to finish the project by fall and have the cards available in early 2006.”
Over the last decade, Linda has done extensive research into the wisdom that both living horses and mythic equine archetypes have to offer people, a subject she touched on in her books but never fully explored in print. She presented much of this material for the first time during her June 2004 talk at the International Transpersonal Conference, “Mythic Imagination and Modern Society: The Re-Enchantment of the World.”
After a standing ovation, there was lots of animated talk from non-equestrians who admitted to feeling mysteriously drawn to horses all their lives. Robin Larsen, who co-authored the book Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind: The Authorized Biography was so inspired by the subject that she gave Linda a remarkably facile ink drawing of horses surrounding and emerging from a woman’s head, which she had created effortlessly during Linda’s lecture.
“This kind of response is common,” Linda says. “People attending Epona seminars are spontaneously inspired to draw, paint, write poetry or myths about horses, and the reaction has recently become even more marked whenever I’m able to show the power point presentation of equine art that I developed for the ITA conference and subsequently used during lectures on the road this summer. The strong appeal of this visual element, in fact, is what lent me confidence in accepting an offer to do a five-day, indoor workshop for up to 250 people at the Omega Institute in October of this year. (Details for the Reinbeck, NY workshop will be released in March.) A deck of equine wisdom cards would be an ideal addition to the growing demand for larger, indoor seminars on the way of the horse, allowing people who aren’t in a position to ride or own a horse to exercise and explore the powerful, archetypal and creative feelings these animals evoke.”
Kim McElroy has been purposefully engaging with this dimension of the horse-human bond for nearly two decades. “I believe horses to be much more than beautiful earthly creatures,” she writes. “I portray them as I have always intuitively perceived them, as sentient beings capable of much wisdom and spiritual power. My artwork is realistic enough to allow the viewer to feel the palpable presence of the horse, yet beyond the image lays the spirit, which the viewer can also sense, even if she isn’t aware of her ability to do so.
“Most of my artistic horses exist in another reality, a place I envision where the spirits of horses exist in all their freedom and majesty. In this place horse spirits can communicate freely with us, though their messages might still need personal interpretation. My artwork transports the viewer to this place, in order to explore the lessons the horse spirits would teach us if we were able to be there to learn from them.
Here they are free of the elements that define them on earth in order for them to be more accessible to the person who needs their image as a metaphor or a reminder of something only they can interpret. Just as horses in life can carry us farther than we could walk alone, so too do the spirits of horses carry us on our inner journeys, on pathways that the horse is familiar with, but which we may have never traversed. My artwork seeks to give the viewer the ability to choose symbolic horses to carry them on these journeys.”
All images in this article are copyright © Kim McElroy. To order prints, visit her website www.spiritofhorse.com