Feature Stories:
Equine sculptor’s fine detail
brings large horses to life
By Lisa Perry
Around Town Magazine, March 25, 2012

Cooke County resident and artist Marrita Black has her sculptures displayed throughout the world. Living in this area since the early eighties, she specializes in bronze sculptures of horses and riders. Some of her creations are larger than life size. She has converted the barn into a studio at the ranch where she lives with her husband Bob Black, three canaries, a number of Chinese Crested dogs, various other dogs, several donkeys, and some beautiful horses.
Marrita stands in front of her current project, a larger than life oil based clay sculpture of a horse called "The Sire," which will eventually be cast in bronze. She refers to some extensively used laminated diagrams of the muscle and bone structure from a horse anatomy book. "You need to understand the complexities of the structure underneath the skin of the horse to sculpt it realistically," she said. "You have to know there is a bone here and a muscle there in order to form the shape of the body and face correctly." And she does understand it.
Her mother claims that she said "horse" before she could speak any other words. Growing up near Kansas City, she had her first pony by the time she was eleven or twelve. By the time she was in high school she was being accused of tracing pictures instead of drawing them because her work was so intricately detailed. She just wanted everything to be as "perfect" and realistic as possible and she had a flair for attention to specifics. She got a degree in animal science in college, and she helped to pay for her education by modeling for pictures with horses. "That's what I wanted to do anyway," she said smiling. "I wanted to be with the horses and go to the shows, and I could learn a lot by watching the people and the horses there." She went on to show her own quarter horses quite successfully, and she built a respectable reputation and wide acclaim within that circle for many years. 
In the early nineties, she traveled with a friend to Sante Fe, New Mexico and was inspired by the art there. She noticed that the art was mostly focused on Native Americans and cowboys "of the old days." She also noticed that there wasn't much attention given to the modern day cowboys and cowgirls and horses. That was when it occurred to her to put her focus there. She began sculpting when she got home from that trip, and she hasn't stopped since then. It was a perfectly natural progression from her contacts and acclaim within the horse show circles to her art representing that lifestyle. People were anxious to see her work, and as soon as they did, the commissions began to abound. When people saw the beauty and immaculate detail of her sculptures, they wanted their horses and loved ones to be preserved in bronze forever in one of her creations. And word spread like wildfire.
Marrita has numerous commissioned sculptures that can be seen in this area. There is a large piece in front of the American Paint Horse Association office in Fort Worth. It consists of four 125% life size paint horses.  "To create this monument I sculpted a 1/3 size marquette in clay," she states on her website. "A model was created from the 1/3 size maquette. Using that small model, the larger horses were sculpted." It was a long process from the clay sculptures through multiple rubber, wax and ceramic molds and steps to get the pieces to the stage where they were ready to be cast in bronze. The process is both artistic and scientific involving molten metal and caustic chemicals. And even then, there were still many more steps to weld the pieces together and to get the bronze colored, polished and preserved. This huge piece, called “Legacy of Color,” was commissioned in 2000, and the finished sculpture weighs approximately 3 tons. It took two years to complete the project.
She has a sculpture at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum in Amarillo that depicts Carol Harris and her legendary 2 time AQHA world show Champion “Rugged Lark.” Carol Harris was inducted into that Hall of Fame in 1997. The bronze statue stands in front of the Hall of Fame and was commissioned and donated by Carol Harris. Another copy resides at her home in Florida.
Marrita has also created sculptures of people. Indu is a sculpture of a kind and well-respected Chemical Engineering PhD. The sculpture was commissioned by her husband after she passed away. “It is 6 feet and 2 inches tall, standing larger than life size and is composed of over 150 pounds of clay,” says the artist. This piece will stand in three different areas in Tulsa, OK when completed, and one piece will be transported to India to be displayed there.
Marrita is also working on a piece that will hang on the upper wall of a library in a mansion in Arizona. The sculpture is in the form of a life size horse that will appear to be jumping through the wall. Marrita said the piece will have to be made of a much lighter weight substance than bronze in order to hang on the indoor wall. It will be finished in soft colors to depict a white horse with dappled grey undertones.
"Horses are as individual as people are," Marrita said intently. "When you spend time around them, or study their pictures, their personalities and spirit come to light. I try to incorporate that into the art. They all have different expressions and a certain way of carrying themselves. Each one is unique, and it is very important to portray that."
Not all of Marrita's sculptures are massive. She has a gallery of room-sized sculptures for the home as well. These are numbered edition fanciful pieces of horses, some including people riding on or standing with them. Her favorite is displayed in the center of her living room. It is called "Looking Good" and depicts a cowboy riding in a horse show sitting tall on his horse. It is from a 14 piece edition that has now sold out. The detail in the clothes and saddle are truly delightful. The piece stands 38 x 34 x 12.5 inches. “Looking Good” also resides and can be viewed at the Spirit of the West Resort in Tioga.
Marrita creates sculptures of her beloved Chinese Crested dogs, too. Another of her passions, she has bred and shown these animals with championship results. 
One of her newer endeavors has been the development of a line of home decor products made of a special resin which she gets right here in Texas. These are all handcrafted items, but are made of resin rather than bronze. They are lighter, smaller, open edition pieces and therefore much less expensive. These products range anywhere from fountains and large plant containers to vases, jewelry boxes, picture frames, medallions, crosses and small sculptures all decorated with horses. She also has designed bronze horse door handles and doorknobs. Many of these pieces have been carried by Bed, Bath and Beyond, The Potpourri House, and Schneiders Western Store.
You can view Marrita's art and contact her on her web site at www.Marrita.net.
By Lisa Perry
The Southwest Times, Pulaski, Va Sept. 24, 2009
It is difficult not to notice Tipton Ridge Veterinary Medical Center as you drive by it on Bob White Boulevard. The building and garden attract your eyes and senses with their aesthetic and joyful allure. The customers enjoy it as they bring in their dogs, cats, birds and other animals for Dr. Randy Vaughn’s care.  Some people can’t resist pulling into the parking lot just to look around, take pictures, maybe ask a few questions, and to breath in the air of the well-crafted, peaceful space.
The building itself is an admirable sight with its tutor eaves, rock façade, and multi-faceted roofline reflecting the ridgeline of Peaks Knob, which towers behind it. Randy began construction of it in 1980 with his father and brother Mark. The original building was much more rectangular and straight-roofed, and Randy did the original rockwork himself. But he knew that was not the vision that he had for his veterinary office, so he remodeled it, also with the help of his brother, from 1999 through 2003. He named the center Tipton Ridge in honor of his father whose middle name was Tipton and who passed that name down to his son.
Randy had an early affinity for plants, especially the blooming varieties, and remembers how his parents and grandparents encouraged and helped develop that quality in him. They all had gardens, and he smiles as he speaks of how his mother always had many things blooming in hers. Staying active and involved in nature was a way of life for his family, and so his thoughts turned to the landscaping around the clinic.
He wasn’t sure exactly how to begin until, in a flash of inspiration, he suddenly realized that he wanted rocks…big rocks…everywhere. So he brought in a large variety of sizes of limestone and placed them around the property. Then he planted a few raspberry crepe myrtles and some Crimson King maple trees.
Beth Gartner had been taking her animals to Dr. Vaughn’s clinic for years. They were good friends and he knew she would be the perfect solution for taking his landscaping to the next level. Thus began their partnership in creating the garden there in January of ’07.
Beth is well known in this area for her plant knowledge and expertise in gardening. She was the landscape specialist at New River Community College for many years. She has a degree from Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke and absorbed every horticulture class they had. She worked on the grounds at NRCC, and with the help of some grants from the forestry service, she designed and implemented a Learning Gazebo. It was highly successful and unique, and she taught various classes there as well.
Beth’s love of plants started at a very early age. By the time she was six years old, she already had cultivated her own rock garden. Even as a child, she began writing down combinations of plants in a diary. She has accumulated several of those diaries that span ten years each, and she still uses them as references for her ideas.
She, too, was blessed with grandparents on both sides who loved gardening and helped to encourage her talents in that area. Her paternal grandparents had a formal garden in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and she particularly remembers their beautiful iris. Her mother and maternal grandparents were Pulaski residents, and they had a house with a conservatory. Beth remembers a Night Blooming Cereus plant there. When it would be ready to bloom, her grandmother would host a midnight tea party in celebration to watch the flowers open.  
Beth has a wonderful sense for color, texture, light and combination. She also has a talent for finding unusual and striking shapes and sizes of leaves and flowers, and incorporating them into her designs. Her ability to visualize and her unique combinations truly elevate her gardening to an art form.
Randy and Beth started the project by bringing in truckloads of very good, enhanced dirt, which they both believe is the cornerstone of any successful garden. Then Beth began to plant a few Japanese maples, forest pansy redbuds and Black-eyed Susans. Randy designed the unusual nonlinear fence for the property, which allows for alternate planting and viewing from both sides.
The garden includes a pond on the side of the building, which is surrounded by plume poppies, a very unusual variety that makes a strong structural statement in combination with tall grasses and Japanese maples. Not far away is a purple smoke bush, various varieties of verbena, tansy, Japanese anemones, purple leaf sedum, coreopsis rosea and threadleaf coreopsis, Johnson’s Blue geraniums, euphorbia, Arkansas blue star, a variety of asters, blue plumbago, rocket ligularia, Russian sage, and daylilies. There are several types of sunflowers lining the parking lot, including Russian giant, Mexican, and a variety that has a dark maroon bloom. There are numerous types of grasses, including zebra, variegated myscanthus, and sedge.
Seeds must be started for several of the crowning glories of the garden every year. Purple hyacinth bean vines adorn the fence, and the towering castor bean plants with their giant leaves and striking red blooms must be propagated each spring.
All in all, this garden provides a rich and soothing background where each plant can be enjoyed individually as well.
Flash of Inspiration--
 Clinic’s design highlights lush landscaping