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The Mane Event 

Stephanie Come-Ryker grew up in a house next to a pasture where a vicious horse protected the turf. Come-Ryker's mother had warned her to stay away, but one morning she couldn't resist. Come-Ryker's mother found her standing directly underneath the notoriously unkind equine and talking to it.

She escaped unharmed, and a love for horses was born.

Over the years, her passion for horses has transitioned from talking with the creatures to painting portraits of them. Her work will be part of the Plainfield Public Library's equestrian art exhibit Hoofbeats, Aug. 3-28.

Come-Ryker's interest in painting began when a friend was giving away a set of acrylic paints. Several months later while on vacation, she encountered a black mare. She took a picture of the horse and returned home to begin her first piece of work -- The Big Mare.

She bought a 36x48 canvas, and with her fingers, painted that horse. "It was an absolute shock, to everyone involved, that it just flowed out of me," Come-Ryker says. "There's no explanation, I've had no formal training. The time just finally felt right. I was in college finishing up history and sociology majors, but knew I'd found my life path. My husband and I chose to focus solely on an art career for me, and I've never regretted it for a moment."

Come-Ryker mainly uses acrylics, because the quick drying time lends itself to swift painting.

"I tend to work very quickly when I'm focused, and don't have the patience for slowing down and waiting for oils to dry between layers," she says. "I also find acrylics easier to manipulate on my canvas for me, personally. I know there are a lot of oil purists out there who would beg to differ."

The Rookie demonstrates Stephanie Come-Ryker's equine artistry in acrylics. - STEPHANIE COME-RYKER
  • Stephanie Come-Ryker
  • The Rookie demonstrates Stephanie Come-Ryker's equine artistry in acrylics.

Come-Ryker relies heavily on watching horses in their natural environment to capture their movements, intricacies and character. She will visit a barn, snap some pictures, and use those as reference points.

She doesn't want to just paint a horse, according to the artist. Come-Ryker strives to capture its unique characteristics and spirit. As a result, she does a lot of head and shoulder paintings.

"This is the area that interests me most on a horse, the part that shows what they might be thinking or how they're reacting to something," she says. "I love every aspect of a horse, and they all are so very special in their own way, with their own likes, dislikes and quirks -- just like humans. You just have to pay attention."

Come-Ryker is one of several artists to be featured in Hoofbeats, including Rosetta Morgan, Jennifer Stepancik and Jolee Chartrand.

Chartrand, a resident of Mooresville who teaches classes at her Monrovia Mudwork studio, will display her horsehair pottery.

Like Come-Ryker, she came upon her craft accidentally.

"A friend of mine was having a birthday party and a friend gave him a piece [of horsehair pottery]," she says. "I started my research to determine how it was done and began practicing it as one of the forms of finishing work that I do."

The origins of it began in the southwest, but they are otherwise largely unknown. The art form uses raku pottery, which is known for a porous texture attained by removing the piece from the fire when it is still practically molten hot.

click to enlarge Shoo, Fly! by Come-Ryker is an example of artwork on display at the Hoofbeats exhibit at the Plainfield Public Library. - STEPHANIE COME-RYKER
  • Stephanie Come-Ryker
  • Shoo, Fly! by Come-Ryker is an example of artwork on display at the Hoofbeats exhibit at the Plainfield Public Library.

Horsehair is then applied. The hair burns, and the carbon forms textured lines.

While the creation of the vessel is a delicate and, at times, lengthy process, Chartrand says she has little to no control over the placement or decoration of the hair.

"I have full control over the shape of the piece I make, and that's about as much control as I have," she says. "You have very little control in that the pots are coming out of the kiln at anywhere from 900 - 1,300 degrees. At that temperature, the pottery is very porous. That allows the carbon from the hair to be absorbed into the pot. My window for that is very short, about 45 seconds."

That makes the final product somewhat unpredictable -- which she likes.

 "I think of it as the animal's final control over how the piece turns out," Chartrand says. "I don't mess with it. It's serendipity; it is how it is, and it's beautiful and it's different."

Chartrand gets the hair from a number of different places, although its value makes it hard to come by. Her daughter is a barrel racer, so occasionally she'll get some from her [from the horses she's around]. "But these people with their horses, that hair, especially the tail, is gold to them. Not too many people are willing to give it up," she says.

Chartrand has worked with hair from all types of living creatures -- dogs, cats, birds, horses and even humans. You can see an example of her pottery with the equine type at the Hoofbeats show.

For more information about the Hoofbeats exhibit, visit or call the library at (317) 839-6602.

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About The Author

Matthew VanTryon \ Butler

Matthew VanTryon \ Butler

Matthew VanTryon is a sophomore journalism and spanish double major at Butler University. He is the sports editor for the Butler Collegian and takes advantage of several other freelance opportunities in his spare time.

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