by Franklin Hill Perrell
If you are traveling from New York City to points north, the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, Orange County, NY, is worth a visit. Presently, they are featuring an exhibition of works by American artist Lumen Martin Winter. Winter (1908-1982), an artist of considerable renown, during his lifetime, is presently the focus of renewed interest. His art flourished in the period following the WPA when he began his career as a muralist, later exhibiting paintings and drawings at an impressive array of museums and galleries.
“The Spirit of the Horse” is the theme aptly chosen for this venue where a selection of Lumen Winter’s works (representing only one chapter of his oeuvre) exemplifies his verve of execution. In lively
watercolors, Winter builds form through color, and captures the animated spirit and lively intelligence of his equine subjects. This is shown especially in his Study for Steeds of Apollo, the basis for the Apollo 13 lunar mission insignia, and used by the US Postal service as a first day cover art for its commemorative in 1970. Pencil drawings comparably convey multiple horse figures through exquisite line rendering and gesturally handled shading.
What gives these works their special character is the artist’s grasp of the horse’s attitude: driven forward by an innate compulsion to vital and urgent movement. In her catalog introduction, museum curator, Rebecca Howard, writes, “It is the enduring connection between the powerful spirit of the horse, drawn into focus by movement that so captures the human heart.”
In Lumen Winter’s work, these equine traits appear heroic, and seemingly self aware. The horses are shown to communicate with each other through facial expression, posture, and movement. Typically, several horses respond to the prompting of a lead horse who becomes Winter’s focal point. Much like a so-called conversation group in figural art, narrative is emphasized. As a successful muralist (note the grid marks on one watercolor- indicating an intended expansion of scale), Winter became a gifted story-teller through visual cues akin to cinema.
Gift of Alexander Katlan in memory of Dr. Nathaniel R. & Lucille Katlan and Dr. Roberta Katlan Helfgott.
The position of Lumen Winter within American art falls within the wider realm of realism. He shares with his friend Thomas Hart Benton, a sensibility for curvilinear shape and movement. This quality is conveyed in a powerful lithograph, done in black, red, purple an white. Here, a singular horse dominates within a broad arch composed from the rearing heads of three companions. The vitality of Winter’s works is such that one senses an empathy and understanding for his subjects that is deeply felt. These horses are never anthropomorphized: their mental and emotional state is always that of a horse and nothing else, but the artist’s grasp of the inner forces that impel them is communicated with uncanny authority.
There are also some tender images of mother horse and foal. On another level, these works characterize regionalism. The setting is New Mexico’s desert and mountain topography. The artist grew up on a Kansas ranch along the old Sante Fe trail. Though he trained and resided as an artist in NY, he later returned west and established a studio in Sante Fe.
Sketches by LMW (L-R): Private collection of Alexander Katlan on loan to the Harness Racing Museum; Gift of Alexander Katlan in memory of Dr. Nathaniel R. & Lucille Katlan and Dr. Roberta Katlan Helfgott.
The National Harness Racing Museum itself capably evokes a significant chapter of American racing history. The collection is housed in an elegant, stone, Tudor-Revival building. The exhibits incorporate features of old clubs associated with the sport, stables and tack rooms, relevant fine art, photographs, racing silks and similar sport fashion, along with special exhibitions. A highlight for us was a ride in a race simulator which vividly captures dynamic movement and speed. The lovely gift shop has an array of horse related items, and we especially liked the equestrian art of museum educator Kristin Roberts.
If you visit, there are some agreeable restaurants in Goshen (we had a very enjoyable lunch at Zagat-rated Catherine’s), a historic district, and several streets of attractive houses. As we experienced, it is a worthy destination. For more information, visit www.harnessmuseum.com.
A survey of Lumen Winter’s works, covering a diverse array of subjects, will be featured at The Long Island Museums (in Stony Brook) in 2016.
For more information on Lumen Martin Winter, visit www.lumenwinter.com.
Photos Courtesy of the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, Goshen, NY