There are many equine artists. But how many have worked at a racetrack as a hot walker and assistant trainer?
When Sharon Crute paints a thoroughbred thundering down the track, she taps into the excitement and emotions of her 30 years in horse racing.
“She paints the life that she lived,” says her husband, Michael Bray. “You name it, she’s done it.”
Crute, the artist, and Bray, a retired thoroughbred trainer who raced horses at Saratoga and across the country, are partners in Sharon Crute Studio, a gallery and artist’s workspace that opened last November in the Beekman Street Arts District in Saratoga Springs.
In her gallery, Crute, who paints mostly in oil, shows both original paintings and high-end giclee reproductions, which the couple make right in the studio. Along with large-scale paintings and giclees, they sell mini giclees and mugs and mouse pads with her images.
This summer, one of her special projects is creating the image that will appear on the program and poster for the inaugural Steeplechase Festival at Saratoga, scheduled Saturday, Sept. 15 at Saratoga Race Course. Crute’s original oil painting will be auctioned to raise funds for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
You’ll also find her artwork on Union Avenue, because for the third summer, she is one of a select handful of artists who exhibit at the track.
On Beekman Street, visitors might be surprised to see a painted fiberglass greyhound standing in a corner. Crute was commissioned to turn 12 of the life-sized dog models into artworks for a Florida client who is raising money to help rescue greyhounds.
Crute, who is 58, grew up in Rhode Island and holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Swain School of Design in New Bedford, Mass.
She and Bray have been married for 31 years, and have lived in California and Florida.
“She was my assistant trainer for many years and everywhere we went, we’d always have a tack room set up for her painting,” says Bray. “She would bring clients there, show them her work.”
Crute’s paintings are privately held by horse owners, jockeys and other equine art collectors in England, Italy, Ireland, Japan and South Korea.
For 11 summers, the couple traveled from their home in Ocala, Fla. to Saratoga Springs during the racing season. Last summer, they decided to live in Saratoga Springs year-round. Bray, who started a First Friday Artwalk in Ocala, has gotten involved in the revitalization of the Beekman Street Art District. In May, he led the launch of a First Friday art night on Beekman Street, with plans to keep it going into October.
On June 13, The Gazette chatted with Crute in her studio:
Q: What’s your painting process?
A: I do photos, I also do a lot of preliminary drawings. When doing my preliminary drawings, I have three anatomy books on the floor in front of me that I refer to constantly, so I have the musculature correct. I also have a book by Eadweard Muybridge called “Animals in Motion.” Muybridge was the photographer who, in the mid-19th century, did those sequences of photos so that you could actually see the strides. Prior to that, people used to think that horses ran like the Currier and Ives horses, the front legs outstretched and the back legs outstretched. And it wasn’t that way at all.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m actually finishing up a book of riddles for children. Pen-and-ink drawings. I have a partner who is an educator. Her name is Dale Wade, in Ocala, Florida. We’ve been working on this book for a couple of years. The book is horse-related riddles, probably for the 6- to 10-year-old age group.
Q: You were selected to do the cover for the new Steeplechase Festival at Saratoga. How did that happen?
A: That I have to give credit to my husband for. He found out that they were going to create a steeplechase event that was separate from the track. It’s a one-day event, and it’s packed with all kinds of family events. Tailgating is the biggest. A lot of them have Jack Russell races, parade of the hounds and so forth. What they are organizing here, in Saratoga, is a very traditional carriage parade, which will start downtown and come up to the track.
Q: Can you reveal what the cover will look like?
A: It’s top-secret for now. Of course, I’m going to have the iconography of the grandstand in there somewhere.
Q: How get you involved in horse racing?
A: I was a horse-crazy kid. I rode. Got a job when I was 12 years old with a local riding stable as a tour guide, taking people out on the trails. And did hunter jumper shows. When I met my husband, I just fell in love with horse racing. And he had a very prominent string of horses for many years, both on the East Coast and the West Coast.
Q: Why did you decide to move from Florida to Saratoga Springs?
A: The economy in Ocala was doing pretty poorly. Ocala is a thoroughbred breeding center, and a lot of my clients were going under or moving out. We decided it was time for a change.
Q: You have lived in and traveled to many places. What do you like about Saratoga?
A: What is there not to like about Saratoga? It’s beautiful and it has so much history. The racetrack has such history. It’s the most successful racetrack in the country. The Victorian houses. I’ve fallen in love with them, and I’d like to paint more of them. It’s also a very art-friendly town. There are things to do every weekend, even in the dead of winter.
Q: You worked at racetracks for more than 30 years. What was it like for women when you were young?
A: I was one of the first women to gallop a horse on a racetrack. In 1969, at Lincoln Downs (in Rhode Island). It caused quite a scandal. Guys didn’t want us there. That was before women could even ride races. They didn’t get that right until 1973. Now there is so much attention being focused on the former women jockeys, what pioneers they were. We went through a lot. There were only a handful of us women at the track then.
Q: Did you like working at the track?
A: I loved it. I miss it. But I also love painting. The most important thing is to portray the passion I have for this sport. I’m after speed and power. Horse racing is near and dear to my heart.