Grilled Peaches & Cowboy Butter
Grilled Peaches recipe courtesy of Kristie Binders,”Rodeo Road Recipes” ingredients: 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter 3 Tbsp. brown sugar 1/3 cup dark rum (spiced is best) […]
The memories of people’s favorite horses live on through Sharon Widmer’s work.
The Deep River, Iowa cowgirl makes horsehair pottery from the manes and tails people send her of their beloved horses who have passed.
In her studio at her and husband Neil’s house outside Deep River, she uses the Navajo technique of putting horsehair on pottery the instant it comes out of the kiln. It sears into the pottery, leaving a smoky pattern, carbon trailings and a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of artwork commemorating the animal.
Sharon herself is a horse lover.
Growing up in east central Iowa, she rode horses but didn’t attend her first rodeo till she was in her twenties. She saw the horses, and was in awe. “Those horses were so broke and fit and beautiful and athletic,” she remembered. “It was what I wanted to do.”
So she bought an 18-year-old horse that showed her the ropes of barrel racing. Sharon knew how to ride, but the horse helped her. “He let me know what it felt like to ride a horse that knew what he was doing.”
She competed at regional rodeos, with the horse carrying her to some placings. Sharon was delighted. “I am all in. I love this,” she said, of the experience.
She bought a few horses, trained some, and continued to run barrels in the regional associations and in pro rodeos as a WPRA member, qualifying for the Great Lakes Circuit Finals several times.
An artist by trade, she graduated from college with an art degree and had a pottery studio at her house, making functional pottery for purchase.
In 1987, after a divorce, she sold her equipment, quit throwing pottery, and never looked back. “I walked away,” she said. “It felt like it was time for another season in my life.”
She had made pottery that was still in use in her kitchen, and four years ago, her kids asked when they were going to get a piece of Mom’s pottery.
So she borrowed the use of a friend’s studio and threw some pots.
The light switch was flipped. “It had been 30 years since I’d touched clay, and I didn’t miss it, long for it, and didn’t really have any intention of getting back into it. But the first time I put my hands on the clay, my thoughts were, oh, my goodness, I forgot how much I love this,” she said.
A friend asked if she knew how to do horsehair pottery.
Sharon didn’t know, but after searching online and watching videos, she taught herself.
When the pottery comes out of the fire, which is over 1,000 degrees, horsehair is laid onto it and it burns in, disintegrating and leaving a pattern and a carbon trail. Feathers can also be used.
The process must be done quickly, before the pottery cools off and the hair won’t burn.
Sharon estimates there’s about a five minute window to place the horsehair or feathers. She has an assistant who helps with the process.
She might put on a strand at a time, or she might put a handful on. “It’s very organic.”
In addition to commemorating an animal with hair, she sculpts pots with a variety of figures: horse’s heads, dogs, barrel racers or ropers’ figures. She’s put horse’s names on pots and uses other keepsakes to personalize a piece.
When her dad, an avid fisherman, passed away, she used a reel on the lid of the pot, and sculpted a walleye into its side with her dad’s lure in its mouth.
She uses horsehair as braids or a tassel on pieces, too. “I keep working on it till I sense it’s done. It can be a long process or a quick process.
“No two pieces are ever alike. Not only are they hand-thrown, which makes them unique, but the hair and the whole process is unique.” Most of the pieces she makes are custom, but she also has pottery for sale that isn’t custom-designed.
They are works of art, she said. “Each one is intended specifically for someone and something.
“People cry all the time when they see their horsehair pieces. People fall in love with their animals, and this is a way to remember them.”
Throughout her working life, she has been involved in various aspects of rodeo and other business ventures.
She worked for Steve Gander and the World’s Toughest Rodeo securing sponsorships, from 1990 to 1998. She worked for the WPRA in marketing and sponsorships, producing the WPRA World Finals in 2007-2008. She sold advertising for the RFD television show Women’s Pro Rodeo Today, for a while. She produced the Iowa River Catfish and Cowboy Show for the Iowa County (Iowa) Fair Board, and worked with Tommy Joe Lucia on sponsorships for some of his events. She and her husband, Neil, a team roper, produced family rodeos at their place for eight years, along with lessons and clinics in goat tying, pole bending, barrels and breakaway.
For a while, she owned a candy store, making the “world’s best mints” and selling them across the country.
She brought Louisiana to the Midwest, producing a Cajun and Zydeco Festival, complete with crawfish, boudin, accordion and fiddle, to Amana, Iowa; Lincoln, Neb.; Dayton Ohio, and Sault Sainte Marie, Wisconsin.
“I like putting things together,” she said. “I like creating the company and getting it rolling.”
Nine years ago, Sharon had a horse accident that changed her attitude about life.
She was training a skittish barrel horse. She was on the ground, and got trapped between him, a gate and a fence. He got scared and wanted through the gate, which, Sharon believes, he got a stirrup caught on, which pulled it shut tighter the more he struggled. “It was the gate, him and me, and the space got smaller,” she said. “I was crushed.” She suffered compound fracturing, degloving of her left arm, a torn ACL and punctured lung, and broken vertebrae. She didn’t ride for nine months. It was hard getting on a horse again, but she did, and continues to barrel race today.
“I was tickled to be riding again,” she said. She had a different perspective on life. “Whatever I wanted to get done, I figured I’d better get on it.”
Her pottery includes more than horses. She’s done pieces with dog hair and cows (someone once sent a switch from a 4-H heifer), and sculptures with wild turkeys and bears on them. She works in her husband’s shop. “It’s a messy process,” she said. “There’s clay on the walls and the floor, and when you glaze, there’s glaze all over.” Burning the horsehair and feathers smells terrible and causes smoke, so in the summer, she opens the overhead door to let the smoke and odor out.
Creating things and being an artist is her love.
“Horses are a gift from God, and (her artistry) is a gift from God, too.
“It’s my season to be an artist and I’m so thankful to have found this particular media that speaks to me. To me, it’s very spiritual, to have someone’s horsehair, and create something for that person. It helps them to feel like they have that animal.”
Sharon’s work can be found online on her website at: SharonWidmerClayArtist.com
She and Neil have five children: Kelly Hall, Luke Winegarden, Tyler Winegarden, Anne Audo, and Camarie Widmer. They have four grandchildren.
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