Anne Louise MacDonald walks the beaches near her home in Antigonish looking for horses. She finds them in the sand, tumbled and tangled in the seaweed. The horses she finds are broken and need to be put back together. Her mind’s eye tells her how they will find shape, form and movement. She rebuilds them piece-by-piece and before they are all but complete she places a little heart where it belongs, a signature that tells its own story about her love for horses and for her art.
Most of us have picked up an object and will see in it a shape of something familiar. Several years ago Anne Louise started to pick up pieces of driftwood and beach stones and had her first experiment with making sculpture with found objects. From there happenstance took over. When spirited on by fellow Antigonish artist Jaye Oulette, Anne Louise found her niche and from then on her beachcombing for weathered wood found its purpose.
Horses have enchanted Anne Louise for as long as she can remember. From a little girl tapping on the television when anything equine would trot its way across the screen to a teenage artist experimenting in the creation and sale of pen and ink drawings to scrape together $200 to buy her first horse, to an accomplished novelist, photographer and artist, horses have been part of almost every aspect of her life.
Sitting in an antique Morris chair in her living room, Anne Louise can see the horses in her stable that nests at the bottom of a slope on her property on Cloverville Road in Antigonish. In the window two of her sculptures layer her view. One has a mane studded with beach glass. It is one of the first pieces that she made and one she intends to keep for herself. The other has been promised to a gallery in Mahone Bay.
While driftwood sculpture is a familiar art, the interest in Anne Louise’s work comes from the striking nuances that she captures in each piece. Her knowledge of horse anatomy and her intimate relationship with her own horses over the years is imparted in each piece that comes together, as if she was making a jigsaw puzzle without a picture for a guide.
“My very trained eye for horse anatomy makes a difference. They are very life-like even though they are just sticks and stones,” says Anne Louise.
With the vivid representations, Anne Louise creates objects where the viewer will immediately recognize the form of the horse but there is an additional synthesis of a sensory response to our own experiences and emotions associated with horses. It is this “imagined realism” that conjures the curiosity around her work.
“I can pick up a piece of wood on the beach and I will not just see a piece of the body but a movement that captures that horse in a specific moment of time,” says Anne Louise. As a writer I see the horses as a concept where two ideas come together. I might find a piece that looks like something, but it’s not a horse until I find a second piece and the idea then becomes something.”
Art and expression spills throughout the home that she makes with her husband Frank. Her collection of heart-shaped beach stones rest on their windowsills. Containers of driftwood sorted by imagined anatomy fill a second floor studio and her dining room table is a landscape of painted stones, brushes and colour, left over from an art therapy class that she instructed the day before.
It can take a month for Anne Louise to finish a sculpture depending on the number of pieces that need to connect. She works with glue and tiny pegs that are not visible in the construction. Many of her sculptures can be viewed from different angles so they can find their place in an open space and are meant to be appreciated in all aspects of their three dimensional perspective. Most of what she creates is sold on Etsy, she has a few pieces at the Lyghtesome Gallery in Antigonish and she will show some of her work at the Antigonish Art Fair throughout the summer.
“I am blessed,” says Anne Louise. “The sculptures are one of those little magical things that have just come together. A culmination of everything else that I have done.”