Necessary tools for creating artwork generally include pencils and paintbrushes but a rarer necessity for Mary “Kathy” Zehr was an explosive ballistics license.
The Chenoa resident, formally of Grand Ridge, brought her large “Wild Horses” piece to the Omni Prize for the Arts festival in Ottawa over the weekend. The large piece depicts running horses faded over a brown background.
Smoke bombs and gunpowder were ignited to create the effect, enough gunpowder that to make the painting legally she had to acquire a ballistics license to use that much.
“It was a labor of love,” Zehr said of the work, which was officially framed around midnight prior to the festival.
Zehr said she took a class at Starved Rock State Park along with a fellow artist and they bumped shoulders with many looking to acquire the license for work in various quarries across the country.
“I honestly thought they’d laugh us right out of the class, needing a ballistics license for art,” Zehr said with a smile. “But actually they were really cool and I was impressed it wasn’t insulting to them for wanting to do that.”
The artwork was prepped with some spray paint in 100-degree heat and a cardboard outline of horses was applied to the top in Pontiac before the gunpowder and smoke bombs were placed and ignited. In about 15 to 20 seconds, Zehr’s vision came to life in front of the audience’s eyes, which was one of the incentives for creating the piece.
The horses create a ghostly image on the large canvas, which Zehr said is by design as she laments the slow decline of wild horse numbers.
“They’re kind of becoming a thing of the past and it’s a bit of a shame,” she said.
Zehr had a number of other pieces on display and was making a new piece via woodburning in front of visitors as they stopped by her booth at Reddick Mansion over the weekend.
She said she’s been woodburning for many years and was creating an elongated piece showcasing Native Americans chasing down a stagecoach.
Zehr said she’s enjoyed meeting with other artists and viewing their work, such as Joyce Bianchi.
Bianchi didn’t attend the fair alone, she brought her “Old Man” with her.
The “Old Man” is an elderly face carved out of driftwood with a long beard and tiny eyes.
Bianchi is a member of the Ottawa Art League and said she started the pieces as a way to train herself to carve faces. She trains with a woodcarvers group and expects to also bring the sculpture to the Woodcarver’s Expo on Sunday, Sept. 30, at Starved Rock Lodge.
Her basement is littered with pieces of driftwood found on her many visits to beaches and picked one piece where she could use some of the wood’s natural attributes to add detail to the old man’s beard.
She’s also accustomed to making smaller designs such as the crescent moon earrings she was wearing during the festival and the three-leaf necklace, with one of the leaves being made of metal clay.
A piece of driftwood remained on the table to show visitors some of material she starts with before it's turned into a piece for the expo later this month.
“What could it be?” she asked herself as she held the piece in her hand.
Bianchi expected to have an answer to the question of what sculpture was hidden inside the piece just waiting for her to carve it out by the end of the festival.