The Painting Pony

His work was accepted for a month-long gallery showing — that is, until the curator found out the artist was a horse named Buddy.

“We’d referred to Buddy simply as ‘the artist’ throughout the application process,” said Jessica Drake, Buddy’s owner.

Buddy is a 10-year-old Arab mixed-breed horse and is stabled in Rockford on a 100-acre farm that is home to several horses. About four years ago he learned to paint and has been painting ever since. His paintings have been sold to people all over Tennessee, and to individuals from Kentucky to Canada.

But the gallery showing was a no-go.

“We thought it would be wise to let them know Buddy was a horse once he got accepted,” said Daniel Drake, Jessica’s husband.

The gallery withdrew its offer when it learned “the artist” was of the hoofed persuasion. “They said it wouldn’t be fair to other artists,” explained Jessica. “I guess they would have been upset to be outsold by a horse.”

Buddy’s paintings are definitely abstract, but some might say they rival the work of an artist with opposable thumbs. And he even has an artist’s temperament. Sometimes he’ll refuse to paint until Jessica changes colors; or he’ll focus on a particular area of the canvas with an obsessive focus that forces her to flip the canvas before he paints a hole through it.

Buddy was diagnosed with Equine Cushing’s Disease at the age of nine. The ailment makes shedding difficult for affected horses. It is a condition that Buddy will deal with for the rest of his life. Buddy also suffers from Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM), a neurological disease that can cause paralysis. Buddy is still fighting EPM, but is expected to recover fully thanks to an early diagnosis.

When Buddy first started to paint, Daniel shared some of the paintings with his co-workers. They loved them, he said, and they started asking where to buy them. Jessica and Daniel started selling the paintings by request. When Buddy was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease, however, the couple decided to open a Web site to sell Buddy’s work to a larger audience. The sales help defray the costs of Buddy’s treatment, and 10 percent of the profits are donated to the University of Tennessee to help fund Equine Cushing’s Disease research.

Many who buy Buddy’s paintings are inspired by their beauty and by Buddy’s story, his owners said. Jessica shared a comment from a buyer in Nashville: “Buddy’s paintings aren’t only beautiful, but they are an inspiration to me. My dog has Cushing’s disease just like Buddy and it’s very hard on the spirit. Buddy’s paintings are so full of color and happiness that they add a glimmer of hope and joy into my often dark world of Cushing’s Disease. Thank you, Buddy, for bringing some color back into my world.”

“To me, hearing responses like this one let me know that what I am doing is more than just paying the bills and creating art — that it has meaning not only to me, but to others who are also coping with various life troubles,” Jessica said. “I’ve had people purchase paintings for friends who have lost loved ones, dedicating the painting to them, and I’ve had people purchase paintings for loved ones who share a connection with Buddy’s health issues. People connect with his paintings, and it gives them hope — that to me means more than anything.”

Telling Stories

I was thinking today about how we in “the business” often refer to our pieces as stories. It’s an odd name, when you think about it. But I still like it better than the other common name we give our work: article. While story is, perhaps, a bit of a misnomer (it’s not fiction, after all; at least, in the newspaper biz, it better not be), it avoids the cold impersonality of the word article.

Articles are simply objects that may or may not matter. They’re means to other ends and have no intrinsic value. Articles can be anything or anyone’s; there is no ownership of an article – things only get names when we make them our own.

No one every says “let me tell you my article” – no, it’s always a story when it belongs to someone.

And that’s why it’s such a heady thing to be a journalist. We are responsible for telling everyone’s story. That’s an awesome responsibility; and a wonderful privilege. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to help many people tell their stories over the years. Every now and then, I go back and read those stories; I often find I’m moved all over again – both by the story itself and the great honor to be asked to tell it.

I love writing. I love hearing stories; and I have a blast telling them.