Artist Helen Burton describes her first attendance to the polo matches at Bendabout Farms in McDonald as a turning point in her artistic career. The event inspired a new spark in watercolor artistry that captures the thrill of the game and the beauty of a sporting event played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team.
Burton said she read in the Banner about the polo matches being held at Bendabout Farms in September and attended the event on Sept. 9. She said she had never been to a polo match, but had driven by the Bendabout property many times in her 19 years in Cleveland without ever entering the gates.
Sitting four rows up on the bleachers in a central location, Burton listened to the announcer explain some of the action she would be watching. When the two teams lined up to face each other for the start, she learned that each had four members — the white shirts were the Bendabout team and the yellow shirts were the Maryland team.
The brochure she received at the gate from the Friends of the Sixth Cavalry Museum presented the history of the sport and “How to Watch a Polo Match” with diagrams of the various actions taken by competitors.
“Under a cloudless, deep blue sky and brilliant sunshine, the fast and furious action began on the immense stretch of green grass between the sets of goal posts at either end,” Burton said. “Each rider and horse seemed melded into a single figure, twisting and turning in pursuit of the little white ball, with the mallet held high and swiftly swung low to make the connection and send it flying down the field.”
Armed with her tiny digital camera with just a 3x zoom, she had no hope of catching the action on the far side. When the ponies raced by closer to her location, she just kept clicking, hoping to capture some images that weren’t just a blur. “What a pleasant surprise to discover I had a number of good shots when I returned home and put the chip in the computer to review that afternoon’s exciting event,” Burton said.
“As I studied my photos, I realized they would make wonderful paintings. The strong shadows and bright light gave real dimension to the riders and their magnificent steeds. But, I had never painted either horses or riders before. What a challenge!”
Burton got out the 300-pound Arches watercolor paper and began. Eighteen days later, she had completed the first painting. It featured Julio Arellano, No. 3 on the Bendabout team and the top-rated polo player in the United States.
In only a month — by Oct. 27 — Burton had completed five more paintings. Each scene with three players took 32 hours to paint. Single figures ran about 12 to 14 hours each.
“The complicated tack on each pony was difficult to sort out, as well as the shadows they cast on the body. Attaining the rich coloring of each pony’s coat and modeling the muscular shapes took time to get them right. I have always loved detail in whatever subject I paint, but these required the most concentration,” Burton explained.
This “Polo Action Series” is on exhibit at In-Town Gallery in Chattanooga. The six watercolors, with double white mats and leather-look frames, are hung on a single wall, lined up to look like a continuous scene. The artist plans to offer limited edition professional giclee prints. Contact Helen Burton at 478-5262 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.