Karen Keene Day

Born to Be Wild

It all started with a card table, 10-15 minute time slots here and there, and a dream to pursue art full-time when the kids were grown. Like most goals, Karen Keene Day's dream to be an artist did not emerge from a linear path. Instead, it steady simmered for years, while her first passion was being a wife and mother, until it eventually found a space and place in her life to call its own.

Although she had been creating art since childhood, it wasn't until September 1999, that Karen found her passion-wild horses. Inspired by Hope Ryden's book, America's Last Wild Horses, a serendipitous find in the library one afternoon, Karen felt compelled to go west and see the horses for herself. It was in Montana, near the Wyoming border, that she first laid eyes on a herd of wild horses on Pryor Mountain. Even from a distance, these horses penetrated her soul and changed her life. So much so, she has dedicated the last 13 years solely to painting the wild horses, which she has intimately come to know through yearly, extended visits out West, and countless months and years of observation.

"I am in awe of them, not only for their great beauty and majesty, and their ability to survive in desolate conditions, but also for their strong bonds with one another in their family units, and what I have learned from them about relationships for all humanity," explained Karen.

Karen has a big heart, especially for these horses left to fend for themselves in the wild. Perhaps that is why most of her paintings are large. "I couldn't keep the horse on the canvas. They just kept getting bigger and bigger," she smiled, as I admired the many paintings that filled her home and studio. What I found amazing was that each horse has a name, not one just randomly given by Karen, and a story. By visiting the same heard, mostly in Disappointment Valley, Colorado, these horses were as much family to Karen, as they were subjects of her heart, through her art. "Next to being with my family, I am happiest standing on the barren desert sands of Disappointment Valley, watching the wild horses. There I can feel and hear my inner senses, which in a busier world are lost."

Seeing such a deep soul connection, I had to ask what life's lessons she had learned through years of observing these fascinating beasts, and watching them interact in their family units. Here's what she had to say:

. Great communication is done with subtlety. Horses use quiet body signals to define most jobs or differences. Disputes are settled quickly. No grudges are held.
. Persevere for better solutions against all odds. A stallion, in the U.S. government's Bureau of Land Management's roundup of the Spring Creek Basin wild horses in Disappointment Valley in 2011, twice jumped the steel, six-foot fences, to get back to his family. David, another stallion, in the 2007 roundup faced a low-flying helicopter, hovering loudly and dangerously above, pushing him towards the trap, and he ran to freedom. What heart and determination they have.
. Help others who need a voice. They need a voice. They are fenced in and depend on humans when there are droughts or the food is gone.
. Protect and comfort each other. Watching their strong family units, where everyone has a job to help protect and comfort each other, I am reminded once again, to go home and try to be a better person for my family and friends. 
. Be Happy for others. As much as I want to find and see the wild horses, sometimes we cannot find them, not even a cloud of their dust. I like that for them!

One of Karen's biggest concerns is the treatment of these animals, especially during roundups. She has personally observed the abuse and trauma that these animals, that have carried our country throughout history, experience. It is something she will always fight to end, and is beginning to see strides being made for the better. It is important. It is her passion. It is her vocation. It is her voice.

I will close with Karen's words, after her very first encounter:

"In the wildness of the horse
I see noble power
And what we should be.
The heart to go on against all odds
Strong physically and mentally.
In the wildness of the horse
I see what we strive to be,
A friend for sisters and brothers
And for our young a nourisher,
Teacher and protector against all odds."


Up Close:
Married: Since age 21 to Floyd-"He's my honey. Wonderful guy! Love of my life!"
Has: 2 daughters, 1 son
About the family: They are all artistic! Floyd paints cows.
As seen in her studio: "The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself." -Rita Mae Brown
Art Philosophy: Discovery of the journey of art is the most fascinating. Learn to enjoy the process, and don't rush it.
Find her work: I. Pinckney Simmons Gallery, Bay St., Beaufort; Gallery show in Charleston on April 18 from 5-8 p.m. at Michael Mitchell Gallery, 438 King St.