Art and Animals. . . An Essay about Inspirational, Spiritual Connections

Tucker Bailey | May 27, 2021 | Leave a Comment

By Tucker Bailey from her farm, Tucker’s Bailiwick

As far back as I can recall creating art is something I just did, it may have been part of a need to express my love for animals. My mom says I started drawing animals, especially horses at age two, and never used coloring books preferring to color my own drawings.

I think I was born horse crazy, they filled my thoughts and dreams; something about them has always captured my heart and emotions. If I wasn’t drawing horses, making snow horses in the winter, or digging up clay to sculpt them in the summer, I was reading about them.

At age 13 my twin sister and I got our first horses and that is where you would find us, caring for them or riding trails, summer or winter. A teenage girl set free to roam the woods on her horse was true freedom. The nearby rugged shore of Lake Superior was a constantly changing source of awe-inspiring beauty. The long, cold winters didn’t stop us from pulling each other on skis from our horse’s backs, skating, and other winter sports. Enjoying time spent outdoors and around animals gave me great respect and appreciation for the beauty of nature and wildlife. We would occasionally have moose walk through our electric fence, see bears, or hear wolves howl in the distance.

My first bronze sculpture years later was of a family of wolves. I now live in the North Carolina Uwharrie Mountains surrounded by forest and fields along with my husband Bill, a dog, two cats, horses, and a donkey. Being caretakers of 31 acres is a responsibility we cherish. We see lots of deer and turkey along with birds and we have forest therapy right outside our door with trails for hiking or riding and just enjoying life on this beautiful planet.

Trying to understand the nature of horses has been a lifelong pursuit into the mystery of how they think. They have an incredible range of expressions to show their feelings. It’s said that a horse can hear a human’s heartbeat from four feet away and a herd of horses will synchronize their heartbeats. They have a tremendous aura, as much as 40 feet. Much has been written about horses in mythology and they are thought to be a link to the spirit.

I believe beauty like all life, love, and joy on Earth is the love of God surrounding us. Artists are familiar with the state of awareness called Kairos, a Greek word for the condition of living in the present moment, the feeling of losing all track of time in what they are doing. When it happens it is such a connection with the medium of clay or paint and creating that you lose yourself in it, a spiritual connection one can only find in the present moment. A favorite quotation by Kirsten Martz is “We lose ourselves in the things we love; we find ourselves there, too.”   This quote brings to my mind lots of activities but mostly sculpting and painting and also horses as the bond and connection we can find with them is also a spiritual connection.   

Knowing my subjects well is necessary and that requires researching domestic animals as well as wildlife. Each animal is an individual and it is an entirely new experience trying to capture each one’s unique qualities, including something beyond surface anatomy. I volunteered on the Neo-Natal team and as a docent at the North Carolina Zoological Park and was able to meet many animals up close behind the scenes like the elephants, giraffes, arctic fox, and Kirk’s Dik Diks, a tiny antelope that I visited each morning. Being the first person at their exhibit each day before any of the public arrived made the experience more intimate and they were as curious about me as I was of them. I found their enormous eyes and tiny statures enchanting and upon learning that they mate for life, I was inspired to sculpt a pair of them.

The Girls - Two Elephants 1999 Bronze 14.25H x 22.5"W x 20.5"D
The Girls. Two Elephants, 1999 Bronze 14.25H x 22.5"W x 20.5"D

At the Roanoke Zoo, I met the resident tiger, Ruby, while researching tigers in preparation for sculpting her. I also met a young male Clouded Leopard to study his unique features; they have the longest tails and can climb along branches upside down. I was even able to feel his soft fur. They are such an interesting species and I learned so much about their character and unique qualities, studying one up close was nothing short of thrilling. They are listed as a vulnerable species and I hope that bringing awareness to this beautiful animal somehow helps their plight. 


Clouded Leopard crouching. Bronze
Clouded Leopard crouching. Bronze 9.25"H x 17"W x 10"D

The sculpture titled “Rocket Man” was modeled after my own dog Rocky who I was very familiar with… he was born in my studio along with five other puppies from a Beagle we rescued only ten days before. We found good homes for all but Rocky; he belonged with us and is now 11 years old. He was young, only one and a half years old when I did the sculpture and he fully cooperated by lying on my lap when any of his features like his toes or ears needed further study. Rocky is the kind of dog that loves all of humanity. Dogs add so much fun and love to our lives and Rocky’s exuberance and his joy of life is what I hoped to portray in my sculpture. The solution to the technical problem of what kind of base would support a heavy bronze dog leaping through the air was delivered to me by Rocky, inviting me to play with his favorite toy known as “ring toss”. A circle! How perfect… symbolic of the circle of life and also the simplicity of what it represented to Rocky and me, light-hearted fun.   

Rocket Man. Mixed breed dog running, 2012 Bronze
Rocket Man. Mixed breed dog running, 2012 Bronze 19"H x 25"W x 9.5"D

One summer my youngest sister borrowed a lamb for her 4-H project from my Uncle Kenny who raised sheep. We all enjoyed taking care of Cocoa Puff and getting her ready to show at the county fair. Sheep grazing on lush fields is a peaceful sight I love and it’s amazing to see a flock of them running over undulating hills in fields of golden fall grass, moving as one. That was my inspiration for the title of my sculpture “Amber Waves.”  

Amber Waves. Three ewes, 2002 Bronze
Amber Waves. Three ewes, 2002 Bronze 12"H x 29"W x 9"D

Daisy, a miniature donkey I have had now for 20 years was the model for my sculpture titled “Las Burritas”. Because they are such social, fun-loving little animals, I chose to sculpt a pair of them. The best word to describe Daisy is thoughtful as she seems to ponder situations; if you can convince her it is in her best interest then you will have a willing participant. Brushing and carrot treats go a long way toward cooperation! Daisy likes nothing better than being brushed and usually, if I am brushing a pony I will feel her gently backed up to me or squeezing between me and the pony anxious for her turn. They are a calm presence except when they are feeling frisky and playful with the way they dart about, spinning, dodging, and kicking out…they are a great source of entertainment; you can’t help but laugh out loud. To know a donkey is to love a donkey! Capturing their playful nature in my sculpture was the goal I hoped for. 

Las Burritas. Two donkeys playing, 2004 Bronze
Las Burritas. Two donkeys playing, 2004 Bronze 11.5"H x 19.5"W x 9.5"D

Art is much more than an object to look at; it is the experience and process of creating and the experience of seeing and feeling the art. Seeing the form and also how it was created with the brush strokes or visible tool marks can be magical. I always have an idea in my head of what I want the sculpture to be in the end…but it almost always evolves into something different. As I am working I am always open to experimenting and making changes and that hopefully gives my sculptures a feeling of motion and life. A moment in time captured.

Tucker Bailey was born in Minnesota and spent the first half of her life along the ruggedly beautiful shores of Lake Superior. She can’t recall a time when animals and art weren’t important parts of her life. She became an equestrian at an early age and from the beginning drew pictures of horses and other animals, expressing her fascination and love of them. She first saw a bronze sculpture at an early age and was totally captivated by the reality of three-dimensional arts. It became her goal to one day do bronze sculptures. She volunteered on the neo-natal team and as a docent for the North Carolina Zoological Park, trained ponies professionally, and worked at jobs directly with animals or to support her art. 

She had her first bronze cast in 1989 at Carolina Bronze Sculpture and was so fascinated by the process that she took a job working there. For two years she studied and learned the art of casting bronze from the mold-making to the application of the patina. She is grateful for the opportunity for hands-on learning and continues to do her own molds. She carefully hand-finishes each wax before casting, and also is involved in the finishing of the metal and patina. She began showing her work, winning many awards over the years including the Ann Hyatt Huntington bronze medal from the Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club in 1983 at the National Arts Club in NYC. Because of that honor, she and her husband were allowed to get married at Brookgreen Gardens in Litchfield, South Carolina. Along with her husband, Bill, she lives on a farm in North Carolina with ponies, a donkey, a dog, and two cats where she rides and continues to do both sculpture and paintings in her studio. She is a Signature Member of the Society of Animal Artists and the American Women Artists. Many of her sculptures have been included in museum tours around the country including a special exhibition at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC. 

ANIMAL GROUPS, An Exhibition Produced by David J. Wagner, L.L.C. 


A group of equine sculptures by Tucker Bailey will be featured in a new, upcoming exhibition entitled Animal Groups, curated by David J. Wagner, Ph.D. The exhibition will premiere at The Hansen Museum in Kansas in the Summer of 2021 to celebrate the opening of its newly renovated building and then travel to The Sternberg Museum of Natural History at Fort Hays State University in Kansas for display during the Fall Semester of 2021. The exhibit will feature nine groups by nine artists, each represented by five thematically related works to allow visitors to experience the breadth and depth of each artist’s treatment and expression.

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