Friday, January 31, 2014

Year of the Horse

According to the Chinese Zodiac. Jan 31st is the start of the New Year and
2014 is the Year of the (wooden) Horse.

I don't follow astrology so I can't really elaborate much about what the Horse is supposed to represent.
For me, as always, the animal zodiac has allowed me the impetus to play with an animal image as I continue to explore the art of moku hanga.
I chose to make my horse into the "White" knight of the Chessboard but with the added twist of making my horse a working animal.  Since my secret dream would be to farm with draft horses I added the collar and hames of the American style of harness in honor of the thousands of farmers back home who still insist on working the land with draft horses and ponies.   I pulled out back issues of the "Small Farmers Journal" which is full of articles about draft animals and has lots of photographs of working horses and ponies.  I cobbled together a composite from some ads for leather harness and color photographs of teams of horses pulling plows and harrows. (It is also a great resource for books and videos, conferences, workshops, internships and manufacturers of new horse-drawn machinery).   Few people are aware how many farms are still worked using animal power. More surprisingly is how many people are alarmed or threatened by the concept. One hears often how "you can't turn back progress" or how we need industrial agriculture to feed the world's hungry....But many would argue that farming became unprofitable when animals left the farm and were replaced by tractors requiring parts and fuel, and chemical fertilizers became necessary as the original source of farm fertility---crop rotation coupled with animal manures gave way to monocultures of wheat, corn or soybeans and farmers mortgaged their farms to buy larger and larger tractors to farm larger and larger acreages in the hopes that a profit could be made if they could only farm even more land. But despite all this, roughly 400,000 draft horses are still bought and sold in the USA each year. Large numbers by the Amish and Mennonite communities but there are others; old time farmers and young ones too returning to the land in the hopes of finding again a way of life that is tied to the rhythm of nature.  I grew up in the suburbs of Miami and never saw a draft horse until I was 45 years old. Here, the oxen that once pulled plows in Tuscany are all gone except those being raised for meat. There are only a handful of farmers in Italy using horses. Many more in England, France and Germany. But that's pretty far and I'm a little old to be starting from zero and the absence of local models to learn from means that my dream is likely to remain one.

Technical notes:
The keyblock was carved from a small block of boxwood.
The color blocks were carved from shina and okoume marine plywoods.
8 blocks and 12 color impressions on mixed Japanese papers. (working proof)
Baren Forum Chinese Zodiac exchange.


  1. Excellent image, Andrew. One of my favorite things to do every year when the annual Evergreen State Fair rolls around is visit the Draft Horse barn. It's a very popular place, too. The beasts are lined up in their open stalls, head in, slowly munching on their hay, so you get this great view of the hind quarters. It's really a treat when several times a day they gear them up and harness them to a wagon and parade them around the arena. It's spectacular!

  2. You are the rascal, aren't you? That is pretty much the image I was going to do, but you did a much better job than I would have. I can hardly wait for the Chess Horse to arrive!

  3. Sorry Sharri. If you could see my sketch book you'd see I was trying out lots of ideas... I sketched horses pulling pulling a plow or harrow but it seemed just too complicated....I can't imagine it's the first chess piece for the year of the horse and I'd love to see your take on it.... it is wide open visually as it could be handled in lots of ways...(B&W), art deco, stylized, etc. The main problem I had was a draft horse is all Neck and want's to be horizontal....getting it to fit on a vertical post/gamepiece meant taking liberties....