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Collection Connections: War Horse

October 4, 2012

Recently I enjoyed a fantastic performance of War Horse over at our Arts District neighbor, the Winspear. I was completely blown away by the horse puppets, created by the South African Handspring Puppet Company. Classifying them as puppets, however, does not seem to do them justice. The beautiful craftsmanship of the puppets along with the expertise of the puppeteers magically breathed life into horse protagonist Joey and his other horse and animal companions. (I was highly entertained by Joey’s hysterically energetic goose friend.)

What I found most amazing was how the puppets, puppet artists, and actors were able to so powerfully communicate the strength of an animal-human bond. I was so moved by the relationship between Joey and his owner Albert that I teared up throughout much of the play!

I wanted to explore how works of art in the DMA’s collection could similarly convey the potential of human and animal relationships. I thought of the following works:

This small ivory sculpture from the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria presents a man with the most important import: the domestic horse. Horses were introduced to Africa via Asian conquerors in Egypt between 1640 and 1532 BC. Because of their speed, strength, and ability to lift a rider taller than any standing man, horses symbolized power and prestige to the Yoruba.

In this nineteenth-century painting, Cinderella and her pet cat gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. As pets are the best listeners, I would imagine she is venting about her mean stepsisters, who vainly admire themselves in the mirror behind her.

In this sculpture, the Hindu god Vishnu appears as a man with a wild boar head.  The earth goddess, whom he just saved from a demon, sits on his shoulder and embraces his snout.

Coats of arms often included representations of animals. Throughout history, humans have admired certain characteristics of animals and used animal imagery to symbolize human values. Think of a courageous lion or a wise old owl…

Here a man stands with open arms, locking eyes with two birds. The stylistic similarities between man and bird suggest man’s undeniable connection to the animal and natural world.

Artworks shown:

  • Horse-and-rider figure (elesin Shango), 17th to 18th century, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.
  • Thomas Sully, Cinderella at the Kitchen Fire, 1843, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Pauline Allen Gill Foundation
  • Vishnu as Varaha, 10th century, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation and the Alconda-Owsley Foundation, E.E. Fogelson and Greer Garson Fogelson Fund, General Acquisitions Fund, Wendover Fund, and gift of Alta Brenner in memory of her daughter Andrea Bernice Brenner-McMullen
  • Plate with coat of arms, c. 1740, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection
  • Rufino Tamayo, Bird Watcher, 1950, Dallas Museum of Art, Collection of Robert Harville Bishop, gift of Eugene H. Bishop

Signing off,

Andrea V. Severin
Coordinator of Teaching Programs

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