A horse in every country

Artists often source the greatest inspiration from bits and pieces of their early lives.

For Huntsville photographer Barbara Sloan, a childhood passion for equestrian culture has blossomed into a lifelong project that has taken her around the world and back again.

Sloan’s forthcoming book series “Love of the Horse,” is a photographic homage to her favorite creature and a visual diary of her global tour to document a horse in every country. She’s set to debut her book at the Local Authors’ Night at the Huntsville Public Library on Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and an opening show of her framed work will take place at Arden’s Gallery in Houston on Dec. 10 from 4 to 6 p.m.

“I started working on this project when I was in France a few years ago,” Sloan said Friday. “I was touring around and after having been to France several times, I saw the Eiffel Tower and I was wondering how I could take a unique photo of it.

“At that moment, there were hundreds of people with their cameras aimed at the tower, so I walked across the street and there was this sculpture of a horse head. I positioned it in with the photo of the tower and I thought, ‘This is going to be my signature. I’m going to photograph horses, or something horse-related in every country of the world, just to show tribute to this incredible animal who has done so much for mankind.’”

Since then, Sloan has traveled to Greece, Columbia, Japan, Ireland, Jamaica and dozens of other far away destinations to seek out some of the rarest horses in every land. Working with her 35 mm camera, Sloan captures timeless, black-and-white stills paying tribute to the horse and its countless uses in each society.

“It’s very easy to book a flight and hotel,” Sloan said. “It’s very difficult to do all of the research and find out what is really special about horses in each country. In the Bahamas, there are some horses that have been proven to be true DNA descendants of the horses that Columbus brought to America. I found out that there was a small herd of them on the Bohemian island of Abaco in a preserve set up to protect them.

“I made arrangements with the director of the preserve to visit, but before I got there, Hurricane Sandy came through and sat on the island for several days. Right after the storm was over, I flew to the island and rented a car. Since the director’s car had been damaged, I picked her up from her boat and we drove out there only to find one horse remaining. She was the only pure horse that survived and I had the chance to photograph her.”

In some countries, Sloan says she is inspired by a specific statue, emblem or a national sport that is based around the use of horses. In every case, by traveling to each country, she’s able to experience the culture firsthand while finding her perfect picture.

“When I was in Germany, I chose to photograph the horse on the Porsche,” Sloan said with a chuckle. “They love their Porsches and it was a great car and a great symbol of the wild, black stallion on the emblem. For me, that was representative of my visit to the country.”

So far, Sloan says she has gathered enough material for her next few books after this one’s release. By visiting at least 12 countries a year, Sloan says she’s on the right path to completing the series at her own pace.

“At this point, I’ve been to almost 60 countries and to keep from having to do a book when I was really old, I figured that I would do a series,” Sloan laughed. “There are 195 countries in the world and I plan to do 13 books with 15 countries each. So far things have worked out. I’m always looking for an interesting story.”

For more information on Sloan’s work, visit www.ardensgallery.com

New Wynne Home exhibition explores classic style with modern twist

For fans of the classically painted form, seeing the old masters work in person can be a tough feat to accomplish.

Long trips to the Houston or Dallas museums to see a passing Rembrandt, Rubens or Caravaggio are incredible, but getting your ‘chiaroscuro’ or portraiture fix can come few and far between.

Luckily for Huntsville art lovers, the Wynne Home Arts Center is hosting a new exhibition by Nancy Hines entitled “In the Classic Tradition,” which playfully hearkens back to the impressive techniques that originally put painting on the map.

The Huntsville High School grad and University of Texas alum has spent much of her life as an educator and her passion for teaching is paralleled with a lust for knowledge as well.

“I taught for nine years at the junior high level and then went up to the high school level,” Hines said Wednesday. “Then I got the chance to go to a workshop in Italy and I loved the instruction so much that I cashed in my retirement and went to school in Italy at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence with instructor Michael John Angel.

“It was such a classical form of instruction and it was one of the reasons I titled this exhibition “In The Classic Tradition,” and it is the style that I still prefer to use. It’s not the only style that I like, I look at a lot of different art, but even when move to try other things, I tend to swing right back to my roots.”

As seen in her powerfully diverse collection of paintings at the Wynne Home, Hines’ roots are firmly planted in the balance between light, form and expression. From elegantly rendered still-life pieces, to hyper-realistic, often humorous portraits, Hines’ technique is classically cemented, but her subject matter is far more complex — partially abstracted and modern.

“What you’ll see in the show is multiple directions, which is very typically the way that I work,” Hines said. “I don’t tend to go in one direction or hone in on one thing. I’m not sure if that’s my personality or just the teaching background that I have, but I’ve gone in a few different directions in this show. You’ll see some humorous things and some portraits that are absolutely emphasizing an unusual aspect of someone’s personality that I’ve chosen to celebrate as being just as important as exterior beauty.”

Hines’ paintings, while rendering each subject in characteristically flowing brush strokes, allow the subject to exude raw emotion, even when the face is absent from the frame.

“You’ll see one of my absolutely beautiful friends who just so happens to be biting her nails,” Hines said with a chuckle. “Or a portrait of my nephew who has a really bad temper and he let me do a painting of him kind of exploding. Those kinds of things are not normally what people celebrate in a portrait. I love to paint hands as well and you’ll see some very large hand portraits because it is very much about a relationship. It’s not one person’s hands, it’s always more than one in that series and it’s so much about their relationship along with the characteristics of their own hands.”

For Hines, painting seems to be the perfect method of forming a connection between the subject and the viewer. The energy, emotion and quirkiness she picks up on — even in her own self portrait — is delivered to the audience in an perfectly nostalgic and relatable style.

“It’s absolutely about people. People. People. People,” Hines said of her greatest inspiration. “It’s about the way they are and they way they relate to each other. That, along with the play of light and color, is very important to me.”

“In the Classic Tradition” opens on Saturday at the Wynne Home Arts Center with a public reception from 4 to 6 p.m. Artist remarks will take place at 5 p.m. The show will remain up until Oct. 28. For more information, visit wynnehomeartscenter.com.

Preserving the past

Remember the last time you flipped through your family history?

Be it a photo album, a collection of postcards, notes, poems or anything that was saved by a prudent family member, there’s something intrinsically special about experiencing the past through a collection.

For the late Dorothy Mae Hightower and her daughter, LaDeanna Hightower Holcomb, the preservation of those memories is paramount, even when they happen to belong to someone else.

Throughout much of her life, the elder Hightower collected. From crumbling newspaper clippings and obituaries to elegant hand-crafted funeral programs and joyous wedding announcements, Hightower took it upon herself to preserve every artifact of the local African-American community that came into her possession.

As the years flew by, the collection meticulously grew.

From a notebook to a binder, then another and another, Hightower built each volume with small, yet important fragments of the current culture, a little dose of history resting on every page.

Upon her passing in 2008 after a courageous battle with cancer, Hightower’s collection was passed to her daughter, who then took the reins and continued the work on her own.

Now, after 20 binders have been filled with more than two generations of work, the full bound-book collection entitled “Homegoings & Celebrations” is on display at the Huntsville Public Library and the women responsible are set to be honored for their hard work on Saturday with a special celebration at the library from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

“It’s just overwhelming,” Walker County Genealogical Society volunteer Janet Gardner beamed as she gently thumbed through one of the volumes. “As a genealogist, this is heaven, you know?”

When approached by a friend of the Hightowers in early 2014, Gardner and her colleagues knew that this collection held something truly special.

After receiving her mother’s work, Holcomb continued the process, amassing her own trove of historical materials, perusing archives, cemetery plots and other caches until she had four binders of her own to pair with the 15 her mother had completed.

Together, though posthumously, they were crafting a narrative of local black culture. The love, the celebrations, the togetherness, all on the passing pages of a family reunion or wedding announcement, now set to be seen forever.

In 2014, with the help of the Genealogical Society volunteers, Holcomb began the arduous process of compiling every piece for a massive print and digital preservation project.

“LaDeanna expressed interest in learning how to scan, so she came in and I taught her how,” Gardner added. “I was going to help her, but she really enjoyed doing it. She and I began working together and as soon as we got her binders done, we started on her mother’s collection.”

Over the course of two years, Gardner, Holcomb and countless volunteers digitized the massive collection of poems, writings, programs and obituaries — precisely 4,144 images chronologically — while creating an index of 35,569 names. The “LaDeanna Hightower Holcomb Collection” holds six volumes, her mother’s, “The Dorothy Mae Hightower Collection,” bears 14 books, with some pieces dating back to the early 1950s.

“I’m just so thankful that we were able to do this because they deserve it, they really do.” Gardner said of Hightower and Holcomb. “LaDeanna is very passionate about this work. She misses her parents very much. She was raised a very good, Christian girl and she was raised in a very family-oriented household. She gets emotional when she talks about her (mother).”

“When I was working on the covers, I had really picked out this image for LaDeanna’s volumes,” Gardner said as she motioned to a soaring white dove gracing the volumes’ covers. “But when she saw it, she asked me if that could be her mother’s cover, because the dove was her mother’s favorite.”

At nearly the same time that work began on “Homegoings & Celebrations” in 2014, library volunteer Mader Hedspetch began a project in the same vein, as she worked to assemble a digital collection of the Sam Houston High School yearbook collection.

In 1968, Hedspetch witnessed the closing of the school’s doors as a sophomore. Now a member of the Sam Houston High School Alumni Association, she actively seeks out old yearbooks, photos, documents and other artifacts from the African-American school in an effort to preserve its history and legacy.

“Mader Hedspetch, who worked on the Sam Houston High School collection, helped on the “Homecomings & Celebrations” collection, too,” Gardner added. “She would come in and do anything we needed her to do. She went out and gathered materials and then came back to help index and then she would proofread. She was wonderful.”

Nearly 900 images, now bound in permanent form, tell the story from the high school’s 1953, 1967 and 1968 classes. All three volumes are on display alongside “Homegoings & Celebrations” at the library.

“Through working with these two ladies, they became my friends,” Gardner said of Hedspetch and Holcomb. “They’re two Christian women who love their family, their community and they just do everything, including volunteer work at the food bank and their churches. I learned so much from them and we’ve had a good time doing this project together. It’s taken a lot of hard work, though.”

To honor the decade-long process Hightower underwent and to cherish the continued work of Holcomb and Hedspetch, the Genealogical Society and the Huntsville Public Library will honor the trio with a celebration at the library on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The community is invited to attend.

“We had a gentleman come in when we were working on this,” Gardner remembered. “He had been adopted, and he was incarcerated when his adoptive parents died, so he wasn’t able to attend their funerals. He started crying when we showed him the programs from his mother and father’s services. That one incident is worth every hour, every minute, every second that we put into this.

“These are people. These are their lives. This is their story. For some, this may be they only story that anyone remembers, or the only one that is ever told.”