This incredible photo, expressing “a thousand words” left me breathless. I’ve been married 47 years and have never seen an image that captured as much devotion as this one. Standing together, breathing in ice, warming each other while frost covered their faces. When you are a part of an enduring team, the object of your devotion becomes a part of you. Your sense of well-being depends on whether they too are flourishing. Devotion can be risky -- but also profoundly rewarding, because true happiness only comes from sharing your heart.
I am an artist who has learned to trust in blazing moments of connection with a scene or idea. The risk of complete failure, hours of tearful frustration, are lost in that one glimpse of, “ Is it possible?” Devotion to my craft requires committed perseverance, and often pursuit of the unknown. But sometimes the rewards of creativity are higher than a mere mortal should be able to fly.
Immediately upon seeing Cynthia Baldauf’s photo on the cover of the National Geographic catalogue, I found her name and began my internet search. Facebook gave me a contact link. I messaged her to ask - What she would charge for permission to use her “artful photo” as inspiration.
She wrote back, asking what photo I was talking about? What photo! “Your photo is on the cover of the National Geographic Catalogue. It brought tears to my eyes and has filled my heart. How on earth were you able to capture that moment? I’m standing in a warm house freezing just looking at it.” E-mails flew back and forth. She gave me permission, and gave it freely, so I could start my visual interpretation, of her work, in fiber.
It was such a delight to learn more about her and the weather conditions that day. Understanding more about the technical merits and her own artistic determination to capture this image only intensified my admiration. And so it began…..a leap into hope and possibility. I used Cynthia’s photo to draw my basic composition. Then I designed the shapes into smaller and smaller pieces which could be hand appliquéd together, “painting” the figures with hundreds of scraps of different fabrics. Real metal brads were used in the bridle tack. Crystals, wedding dress sequins, silver metallic threads, and bits of paint were added to simulate the frost.
Their eyes took days. Dimensional eye lashes were hand sewn with embroidery floss flecked with glitter. I sent her the first in progress photo hoping and praying she would be pleased.
Early that morning, before the photo shoot, my husband and I were standing by the coffee pot in the ranch kitchen and we could feel the cold penetrating from outside. "How cold is it?", I asked my husband. I couldn't believe it when he said - "39 BELOW ZERO!" Thankfully, there was no wind - the air was completely still. We started wondering if we were crazy to move forward with our morning plans to go feed the cattle with our good friend, Mark Raymond. In over 15 years of spending winters at the ranch in Wisdom, MT, it had never been that cold during our stay. Hating to seem like wimps, we decided to press forward. We dressed for the occasion with extra layers of clothing and packed hand warmers to keep my replacement batteries warm. Out the door we went. The first deep breath into our lungs was a shock, almost painful.
Mark was busy harnessing the horses when we arrived. In addition to his mature team, he had decided to hitch a 3 or 4 year old "youngster" to the team. This is often done to introduce a young horse to the idea of pulling. It is done in such a way that he can travel along with them, but does not have heavy pulling to do.
They were arranged three across - all in a row - called a three wide. My husband, Andy, jumped on board and away they went. Mark driving and Andy pitching the hay to the cattle. After they finished the first load, they pulled into the hay yard to refill the sled. As the horses were standing there resting, they were breathing heavily and their coats were damp from the effort of going through the deep crunchy snow. Icicles began forming on their coats caused by the cloud of vapor from their breath. My heart began thump because I knew something extraordinary was happening and I began to click the shutter. The two older horses began nuzzling each other as they stood patiently - having done this so many times before. I fell completely into the zone - saying a silent prayer that reloading the hay would not happen too quickly. Frame after frame - one more gorgeous than the last - was recorded in my mind and by the camera.
When it was over - I knew I had captured something very special. As the images loaded onto the computer - tears came to my eyes. Incredibly blessed and grateful beyond measure, I uploaded the images to my stock website hosted by Getty and waited for someone to see the magic.
Sales didn't happen overnight, but when they did - it was worth the wait. The stock service never reveals the buyer. Having sold over 11,000 images on line, I almost never know where 95% of them end up. When Kathy contacted me about the cover for the National Geographic Catalog image my knees started shaking and I truly almost fainted. Just 3 weeks before Christmas and I had no warning. My phone and email started "BLOWING UP" (as the kids say).... and never let up for 5 months. For the first time in 27 years I failed to send out my Christmas letter or buy the remainder of my Christmas gifts. My husband and I worked almost 12 hours a day for at least 2 months. Gradually it slowed and came to a trickle by July.
National Geographic art department did two amazing things - they cropped the image so that only 2 horses showed and the love became even more apparent and they supported me 100% by giving me credit on the back cover of the catalog. Above all they never failed to give anyone who wanted it my contact information. Probably what surprised me more than anything was the way people were touched by the love shown between the two horses. People from all walks of life shared their stories about love for big draft horses and what they had meant to them. I cried so many times I couldn't count as my heart was so touched by the outpouring of love.
Every few weeks, I sent another “in progress” photo to let Cynthia know I was still enthralled with her image. Cynthia always responded with encouragement and support. Three months / about 400 hours of work and my excitement kept building. In fabric and photo their posture and eyes said it all. Finally it was done. I sent the photos off to her….. holding my breath.
And then came the icing on the cake - Kathy's amazing finished quilt. Somehow, she managed to share my "moment" and turn it into something even more tangible, beautiful, and comforting. She brought "All You Need is Love" to life.
Our shared “moment” became such a rewarding and unexpected adventure. Cynthia and I plan to meet in person to share “our quilt” with others at the international quilt show in Paducah, KY.
Kathy McNeil www.kathymcneilquilts.com
Cynthia Baldauf www.cynthiabaldaufimages.com
2017 Machine Quilting. Modern Quilt exploration.
2017 -Jan 5 page article on Innovative borders.
My Ophelia is a cover girl. Hope you all enjoy the article!
Superior Threads Company bought two of my quilts! There is no better home that they could go to.
To read more go to ...https://www.superiorthreads.com/blog/2015/6/superior-stars-kathy-mcneil/
"The wonder of Christmas" American Quilter 2021
All you need is love "American quilter" 2018
500 Traditional Quilts. by Karey Bresenhan
"Quilter’s World" Winter 2014
"Machine Quilting Unlimited" Winter 2014
"Quilt Life" 2013, 2014
"Quilters World" Feature Article 2013,
"American Quilters" Feature Article 2015, 2013 and 2012 Center fold.
"IQA Journal" 2012
500 Art Quilts by Lark Books. 2010
New Quilts from Old Favorites, National Quilting Museum book 2010, 2011and 2000 "Quilt Life"Center fold/ AQS 2012
"Fons and Porter" Magazine. 2009, 2011
"Machine Quilting" - January 2010 Quilting the Pictorial Quilt
"Quilter’s Newsletter" Magazine:March 2012 Photo Finish, April 2010 Front to Back Pictorial Quilting, December 2007 Featured artist 2002 December cover Photo, April 2007, May 2004, January 2004, December 2003, Photo Finish 2008
American Quilter’s Society Engagement Calendar 2005, 2007
"Quilter Magazine" Photo finish 2008
"American Quilter": 2007 Spring, 2003 Winter
"Adoption Today", August 2006