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Photography by Robin Ferris

Two years ago while staying at the artful Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston, I found myself marveling at stunning horse portraiture on display at the onsite gallery. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was created by renowned equestrian artist Julie Ferris. Of course, I thought. A lifelong equestrienne myself, I’d long admired the 29-year-old, SCAD-trained painter’s art from afar via Instagram, but quite serendipitously here I was, standing face-to-face with her wonderous works, beholding them in all their glory. 

I must have stood and stared at those paintings long enough to grab the attention of Gallery Director Dayna Caldwell, who made her way over to tell me more about the artist. As it turns out, the Grand Bohemian is one of a handful of galleries across the South that represent Ferris. I was so in awe of her artwork that hours later I brought it up while chatting with the hotel’s general manager, mentioning that I someday would love to commission a portrait of my horse, a Friesian gelding named Whim.

Photography by Julie Ferris

My flight back to Minneapolis hadn’t even landed when Caldwell sent me an email: Might she assist in arranging a custom portrait of Whim? Ferris’s waitlist was a few years out, but she had a spot reserved for a Grand Bohemian commission the following summer. It was a stars-aligning opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass up.

Soon I was in talks with Ferris to determine the specifics: dimensions, proportion, level of detail and more. She first photographs her equine subjects, which allows her to get to know them (and their owners), so last summer, she made her way up from Atlanta to spend a few days with my horse and me. An accomplished equestrienne herself, Ferris knows her way around a barn, and Whim soaked up every ounce of her attention.

Photography by Julie Ferris

Next came a particularly challenging part of the process: selecting a single image to serve as the inspiration for the portrait. Having spent plenty of time with us (including enthusiastically tagging along to a local dressage show), Ferris helped narrow down the options, and we landed on a photo we agreed best represents Whim’s in-your-pocket personality. And that’s when the magic started to happen.

Soon Ferris was sending me progress updates: first, an oil sketch with a basic outline. Then she recreated the dynamic shades of his black coat reflecting in the summer sun using a palette of blues, grays and purples. Finally, she added in the most minute of details, down to each individual hair. And slowly, stroke by stroke, layer by layer, my sweet Whim began to appear on her canvas.

Photography by Camille Lizama

In April, Ferris informed me that she had applied the final layer of paint and that once it dried, the work of art would be ready to make its journey to me. Upon receiving the shipment, I carefully unwrapped it layer by layer until there it was: a portrait of Whim so uncanny in its likeness that I just stood and stared. I’d seen it come to life under Ferris’s talented eye through countless photos, but now, here I was, standing face-to-face with this wonderous work, beholding it in all its glory. Today, it has taken its rightful place as the pièce de résistance of our home, an awe-inspiring homage to the magnificent creature I’m fortunate to call my own. 

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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