Fernwood hosts furry friendPublished 9:23am Thursday, June 5, 2014
NILES — If you or your child loves both animals and art, then Fernwood has an event that will give your family something to talk about for a long time to come.
From 1 to 3 p.m. June 15, the botanical garden will host Nancy J. Bailey and her Morgan horse Clifford, one of the only equine artists in the world. An artist herself, Bailey has been training Clifford since he was 2 years old.
“I got him when he was 2 years old, and he is now 23, so we’ve been together a long time,” Bailey said. “He really likes to pick things up, so I taught him to retrieve things when he was very young.”
As a horse, of course, Clifford cannot use his hooves to pick things up. So, he uses his mouth to retrieve objects, as well as to paint and to perform a variety of tricks. He is also house-trained.
“Horses have almost prehensile lips, so Clifford paints with a sponge that he holds with his lips. He’s mostly an abstract impressionist,” Bailey said with a laugh. “We argue over color and composition all the time.”
Bailey taught Clifford to perform his various feats by using a technique commonly known as ‘clicker training’ and with food rewards. She has also trained a border collie, Pil, whom she may bring along on the Fernwood visit.
“Clifford loves to work for peppermints, and he also loves Twizzlers red licorice,” Bailey said. “He loves painting with watercolors and other nontoxic paints that you use for kids.”
A veteran of many visits to schools and libraries across the country, Clifford provides Bailey with an engaging opportunity to talk with children about empathy and respect for all living things.
“I also talk about cognition in horses and how other things have feelings,” Bailey said. “It’ll be an informal presentation. Clifford will paint pictures and do some of his tricks.”
The afternoon will also include a “meet and greet” when children will be allowed to pet Clifford.
“He loves that, but he can sense when someone might be afraid or nervous, and he’ll just pass by them. He has a sense about who wants to be close to him,” Bailey explained. “He’s very good-natured and loves to play practical jokes.”
When she is not working or playing with Clifford, Bailey focuses on her own work, which sometimes relies upon Clifford as a subject, and she has won several awards for her equine art.
“‘Eclectic’ is a great word for me. I like to work in acrylic, watercolor, pen and ink, and pencil. I seem to go through phases,” Bailey said. “My subjects are mainly animals. Sometimes I paint Clifford. I also do a lot of birds.”
While Bailey’s work has been exhibited at Fernwood in conjunction with that of other artists, about 30 of her pieces will soon be featured there. The exhibit will run from June 20 through July 27 in the Clark Gallery, and she will be present at the opening reception for the show on June 22 from 1 to 3 p.m.
As a native of Drummond Island, one of Michigan’s northernmost locations, Bailey has had a lot of opportunities to encounter and paint animal life.
“It was a great place to grow up,” said Bailey, who now lives with Clifford and Pil in Charlotte, Michigan.
In fact, she and Clifford enjoyed living on Drummond Island so much, she wrote a book about their life there, “Clifford of Drummond Island.” That biography will be available at Fernwood, and guests can have the both the author and the subject sign a copy of it.
“He is the only horse in the world that signs his own books,” Bailey said.
The program on June 15 is free with paid admission to Fernwood, thanks to sponsorship from the Buchanan District Library, the Buchanan Scarecrow Charities and Gloria Smith-Carney. In addition, Fernwood members and Buchanan Library card-holders will be admitted to the botanical garden for free.
More information can be obtained by calling Fernwood at (269) 695-6491 or by visiting their website at www.fernwoodbotanical.org.