A life of art and horses

Published 9:00 pm Saturday, April 1, 2017

WRITTEN BY Judy Heinrich

Many horse people claim to have been born with the horse gene: a driving desire to have horses in our lives even without any obvious connection to them through family or surroundings. Most of us who surrender to that passion consider ourselves lucky if we can support our horse habit financially through whatever career we pursue or fall into.

Tryon resident Joan MacIntyre is extra lucky. She was blessed not just with the love of horses but also with a genuine talent for bringing them to life through art. She has not only supported herself through award-winning equine portraiture for her entire life, almost the only employment she’s ever had besides painting horses has been riding them.

Joan spent most of her young life in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle, N.Y. Some of her earliest memories are of waiting with her mother for the milkman’s horse or the fire department’s team to come by. She also remembers a man who offered rides up and down the street in a Governess Cart for 25 cents.

Joan in her early 20s in a show on Catalina Island. (submitted photo)

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Joan’s first riding experiences were at local pony rings where the ponies were loose and under the rider’s control rather than being hooked up to a circular sweep. Then she really learned to ride at Shady Acres Farm in Mamaroneck, which came to school each Tuesday to pick up kids, take them for a lesson, and drive them back home, all for $1.

Joan continued to take lessons in riding, driving and jumping, and showed on American Saddlebreds, Morgans and Arabs for many years, including at the National Show at Harrisburg, Pa. She was also invited to join the Beaufort Junior Hunt in Pennsylvania when she was about 15.

Joan was fortunate to attend New Rochelle High School, which had a total of 2,000 students and an entire wing dedicated to art programs. “It was almost an art academy,” she recalls. “The high school kind of pointed you toward a career where they thought you should go. I was designated as ‘college bound’ and had eight periods of art a week, with whole terms just on perspective and lettering. By 10th grade they were teaching us to paint in oil.”

Joan says that most of the art students who graduated from New Rochelle High went right to Madison Avenue and became commercial artists. She chose to attend the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, and later the Phoenix School of Art in Scottsdale, Ariz., because she’d always wanted to go out west.

While living out west she was introduced by a trainer to the Wrigley family of chewing gum fame and fortune. The Wrigleys owned all of California’s 27-mile long Catalina Island, where they bred working Arabs for their ranch work and roping. Joan ended up working for them and marrying one of their trainers. She spent four years riding in shows for the tourists on the island, and painting the Wrigleys’ horses for them. She also continued to paint for clients she had from back east.

Joan’s commissioned portrait of Acclamation. (submitted photo)

When her marriage ended in divorce Joan moved to Arcadia, Calif., where she had a cousin. She had never had much interest in horseracing or Thoroughbreds but she started going to races at Santa Anita and now says, “Racing has been ‘it’ for me ever since.” Joan even owned some young TBs herself, of the “cheap, claiming horse” variety, while in California.

She also met Jane Hart and Dee Black, both now of Tryon, while in California. She got involved with Los Altos Hounds in Santa Clara County through them and became the hunt’s official painter. “I had a big following there,” Joan says. “One of my Chronicle of the Horse covers was of the master at Los Altos.”

Joan continued to ride in California, eventually switching from English to Western, which she used on round-ups in cattle country. She also made four trips to Tryon to visit her daughter, Jana Hinely, and liked it so much she eventually moved here about 15 years ago. “I’ve never regretted it – the only things I’ve missed were the beaches and the racing, not the crowds or taxes.” (Joan also has a son, Jeffrey Sargent, who carries on the artistic tradition by making large sculptures for Disney and Universal City.)

While Joan has changed locations throughout her life, she has never stopped painting. She sold her first painting, a head portrait of a horse named “Imp,” for $3 when she was 13. She sold her first “real portrait,” a commission, for $35 when she was 18. “And I’ve done pretty well with commissions since then,” she says with a smile.

Joan has not only made her living with her art, she’s recognized as one of the foremost equine artists in the country. Her work has been featured in a wide variety of equine publications and been on the cover of several, including Keeneland Magazine, from Kentucky’s legendary Keeneland Racecourse, as well as California Thoroughbred, Thoroughbred Magazine, Driving Digest, and seven covers for Chronicle of the Horse.

Joan has won numerous awards in major equine art shows, including Best of Show in the Washington State Equine Show, in which she still participates, and in the Harness Tracks of America Show.

Of course she continues with the bedrock of her career, commissioned portraits. One of her recent ones was of the leading North American Thoroughbred sire, Tapit, commissioned by the manager of Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky., where Tapit stands at stud. She also did a commissioned portrait of Acclamation, the 2011 Eclipse Award finalist and American Champion Older Male Horse. And she has painted the dam and great-dams of Arrowgate, who recently bested California Chrome in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup.

Maybe not as memorable to Joan but close to my own heart is the head portrait she did of my husband’s Quarter Horse, Showdown, for his birthday more than a decade ago. She continues to do portraits on commission locally, as well as across the country, specializing in horses, dogs and other animals. She also enjoys painting foxhunting and racing scenes, and was the official artist for the Block House Steeplechase for several years.

Joan collaborated with friend and fellow artist Sarah Holmberg on one of the life-sized horses for the 2016 “Art of the Horse” project produced by Our Carolina Foothills. Theirs was the high-bid winner when the horses were auctioned off for the project’s finale.

At 85, Joan no longer rides or has her own horses, but she can always get a fix through her daughter, her friends, and the Green Creek Hounds, for which her husband, Jerry Dove, is a road whip.

When I mentioned to Joan that I thought she was lucky to have had both her life and her living revolve around horses, she readily agreed. “I do feel lucky. I’ve never had to have an 8-to-5 job, I’ve been able to get by doing what I like.

“Now, it has been ‘chicken-and-feathers’ at times,” she joked. “But I’ve had my painting, I’ve been paid for riding a bit, and I’ve made a couple of dollars selling a horse once in a while. In one form or another, horses have always supported me.”