Horses have a primitive beauty that touches us deeply. Their closeness to nature, combined with their immense power and grace, have inspired artists throughout the centuries.
York’s passion for horses began in childhood in her home state of Maryland. After attending the University of Maryland, the Institute of Art in Baltimore, and Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington, D.C., she began sculpting professionally. It was natural that horses would be among her subjects.
“I started out doing miniatures because I could cast them myself in silver and gold using a jewelry casting method,” says York. “The equines I created tended to be fanciful, seeming appropriate for the tiny size and the precious metal material, so I often sculpted unicorns and Pegasus. In fact, my first major award was from the National Sculpture Society in New York City for Bridling of Pegasus in sterling silver, which had taken best in show at their annual exhibition in 1978.”
As the size of York’s sculptures increased, she began casting in bronze, the medium she still uses today. She soon began sculpting subjects from her life.
“Having competed and worked at rodeos as a teenager, I drew on my experiences with that to sculpt western subject matter, much influenced by Frederic Remington,” she says.
York’s western influence evolved even further when she moved to the Southwest in the 1980s.
“My western images began to reflect my own firsthand experiences with the ranchers, cowboys, Apaches, Navajos and Pueblo Indians who populated my new environment,” she explains.
After spending some time creating sculptures that mirrored the people York saw in the rural Southwestern landscape, she was drawn back to equine sculpture. Time spent hiking through the canyons of the Southwest and seeing the rock art left behind by ancient cultures inspired her.
“Pictographs and petroglyphs from vanished cultures piqued my interest, and I started to bring them new life and relevancy by turning them into three dimensions, sculpting them in bronze,” she says.
York’s newfound interest in primitive art took her to the Dordogne Valley in France, home of cave paintings carbon dated at 20,000 to 32,000 years old.
“Most of the paintings were of animals, many now extinct or different after many millennia, like the mammoths and sabertooths,” she says. “The horse herds painted on these walls were the inspiration for my Rock Art Mare series. I loved the plump, pregnant-looking ponies that translated so well into three dimensions, and the colors the ancient artists used that worked well with bronze patinas—ground up pigments of yellow ocher, red iron oxide, charcoal black. They reminded me of my own pregnant Quarter Horse mares at the time. I enjoy making them playfully expressive in their positions and gestures.”
Although York no longer breeds horses, she still rides daily and has several horses that were born at her ranch in northern New Mexico. Her studio is located on her ranch, which is called Rancho Verde.
“Our ranch is just across the road from the Santa Fe National Forest, and close to the red rock canyons of Abiquiu, so the ride out is quite exceptional,” she says. “I’ve been riding out here for almost 30 years now and never tire of the extraordinary landscape.”
York is a dedicated horsewoman in addition to being an artist, and she is currently working with a young Mustang mare she adopted from The Horse Shelter in Santa Fe.
“My husband [horse trainer Greg Russell] had been asked to be a part of their annual fundraiser,” she says. “They give 10 untrained shelter horses to 10 local horse trainers to train for 100 days. After the 100 days, there’s an event held that allows the trainers to perform with their horses, and then approved people can adopt the newly trained horses. I’d gotten attached to the little mare Greg had trained, and so I adopted her. Though I still ride them, my other horses are all seniors now, so I prefer to ride them more gently.”
Although York also sculpts wildlife and human subjects, it’s clear that horses are her true love.
“I believe that any passion we experience in our lives influences our work as artists and is an important element in keeping our art creative and vibrant,” she says. “My horse passion certainly does this for me.”
For more information about York’s work, visit www.staryorksculpture.com.
This article on equine sculptor Star Liana York appeared in the March 2020 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!