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A sharp eye for detail

Artist’s horse show posters reflect her touch.

By Mary Anne Janco
Inquirer Suburban Staff

PAOLI — Heather Hedin Peacock admits that she is not at all at ease riding a horse but that she is quite adept at capturing the sleek equine athletes on canvas right down to the sheen of their coat, their meticulously braided tails, even the way the light hits a hoof.

For an artist who loves light and color, the Devon Horse Show grounds is the perfect place, Peacock said. “There’s so much color and activity and excitement.”

Peacock’s painting of a rider, deep in concentration on a gleaming chestnut horse in the practice ring at Devon, with a view of the impressive grandstand, was chosen as the poster for the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair that opens May 22.

The work, Practice Run, is “immediately recognizable as the Devon Horse Show,” said Bev Smith, director of publicity for the country’s oldest and largest outdoor horse show, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year.

It is the second time that Peacock, of Paoli, has been tapped for the job. Her 2000 poster, Next Up, with two horses and their riders waiting to compete in the Dixon Oval at Devon, was a sellout, said Beth Wright, chair of the Devon souvenirs committee.

Peacock paints equine images from photographs she snaps at the fair grounds each year. Often, she does not know the name of the horse or rider that becomes the subject of her work.

What catches Peacock’s eye is the way light hits her subject, the little shifts in color that define the horse’s anatomy, the texture of a mane or hoof, or the fabric the rider might be wearing.

One of her works, Heels Down, focuses on the well-positioned leg of a rider wearing black leather boot, the rider’s gloved hands gripping the reins.

“I have a hard time not focusing on the little details,” said Peacock who even included the banners on the grandstand in Practice Run.

A 1994 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Peacock said she breaks all the rules. She likes to use the smallest of brushes and rather than “work the entire canvas at the same time, I get lost in the details.”

“I like the process of painting,” said Peacock, who may be known for her equine images at Devon but also enjoys painting a variety of subjects from the colorful houses in Bermuda to a lifeguard stand on an Ocean City beach to the light shining in a window of the historic John Chads House in Chadds Ford.

House portraits have kept Peacock busy since settling in Chester County after graduating. She has painted everything from historic stone treasures to a modest ranch house.

When painting a house, she tries to capture what makes it special. That may be a cat in the garden or a Japanese garden ornament – it’s the details that elicit a fond memory, she said.

She has also painted some pet portraits – often a beloved family dog or in one case, two golden retrievers and a cat. For that one, she had to take different photographs.

“No way could I get the cat to pose with the dogs,” she said.

While she is on vacation, she leaves her paints at home but takes her camera. “I do most of my composing with the camera,” said Peacock, who draws from the photographs, filling in little details.

“I tend to travel to colorful places,” she said, such as Bermuda; San Francisco; Key West, Fla.; and St. Lucia. In Bermuda, the colors of the houses went from shrimp color to lemon yellow to ice blue, she said. “The play of the colors against each other was very exciting.”

In Maine, where her parents often vacation, “everywhere you turn is another painting.” She has painted the late sun on the boats at Christmas Cove, the colorful window boxes, even a couple of inviting Adirondack chairs on a sunny day.

“Painting is not really about the subject; it’s about the light and color and what makes mundane things become beautiful when you look at them in a different way,” she said. Back home, an old, blue Ford truck “just caught my eye,” she said. “It had such nostalgia,” she said, so she took photographs and incorporated the truck into some country scenes.

Peacock, a realist painter who trained in oils but now prefers acrylics, had planned a career in illustration but got caught up in the local art scene.

It has been a busy spring of shows, Peacock said, and it has been “sort of therapy for me” since her husband, Ray, who is in the Army National Guard, has been training in Georgia and is waiting to go to Kosovo. The two met in art class at Upper Darby High School, she said.

Her work has been on display at the Yellow Springs Art Show, which wraps up today. And for the fourth year, she will participate in the Friends in Art show that opens tomorrow and runs through the week at the Spread Eagle Village Hall in Wayne.

Molly Kelly, one of the Friends in Art show founders, said that she was a juror at one of Peacock’s first shows. “I could just see she had great talent ... a great sense of color. She does beautiful acrylics ... a lot of places that you identify with ... the Jersey Shore and Devon.”

Gloria Rioux, owner of Southwind Studios in Narberth where Peacock has displayed her work, said that Peacock's Philadelphia scenes – Independence Hall and Boathouse Row – were popular. “It has very fine detail. She’s very meticulous with her work.”

With her horse-show paintings, Peacock said, the biggest challenge is to be accurate. “People who know and love the sport would be disappointed to have something out of place with the horse's anatomy or with the riding gear.”

This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA.  (5/11/03).


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Last modified: 12/23/06.