Having grown up on a Tennessee farm where horses were ridden, bred, and worked, illustrious printmaker Boyd Saunders says he does not remember a time when he was not an equestrian. Yet he was introduced to a new world of horses in the mid-1980s. Former USC-Aiken Chancellor Robert Alexander, a friend as well as fan of Boyd’s work, asked him to embark on a series of handprinted color lithographs, eventually titled The Aikenhead Collection, to both celebrate the area’s harness racing and to enhance the campus’s program of private fundraising.
Weekly, Boyd drove early in the morning from his Chapin home to Aiken to learn as much as he could about the exercise drivers, the harnesses, trainers, the track, and the overall culture that involves not the lithe thoroughbred stretching toward a finish line but the more industrious American standardbreds used for centuries by farmers as utilitarian horses. Boyd sketched and photographed images and scenes until he finally decided to try the sport himself.
“I had more fun than a person should have!” he recalls.
And then one day he was walking by a stable wall and a driver’s colorful silks were hung casually over it. “I saw all those colors and the symbols and letters and numbers, and it struck me.”
“The Veteran,” a stone lithograph in six colors, was completed in 1987. “It grew from just the silks to the horse standing behind it,” he says. “I just drew the horse from my knowledge of horses. ‘The Veteran’ is a horse of a certain age, and the silks are ones that may have been worn at one time. While thoroughbreds may be considered old at 5 or 6, a harness racing horse has some age on him, and so do the drivers. Many have been around for years and years, and they know each other well. When the horses are coming together on the track, there is conversation between drivers. So ‘The Veteran’ is really about the longevity of the drivers, the horses, and the sport.”
Boyd drew “The Veteran” on a 500-pound slab of limestone. “The nice thing about the lithograph is that the image is flat. Lithograph prints are mainly the result of grease and water. You draw with a greasy, waxy crayon and apply chemicals. Each color goes down separately, and the ink sticks to the greasy drawing. I love to see the image printed onto a creamy piece of paper. There’s just something magical when that happens.”
Horses have been the subject matter for much of Boyd’s work, and the article featuring his career on page 94 shows several of his illustrations for “Spotted Horses” by William Faulkner.
“Each one is like my child. When I’m working on it, it’s my favorite. When I was working on ‘The Veteran,’ it was my favorite.”