Above Picture: Nina Winkel, Proud Spirits, 1972, copper and silver, 32.5 x 25 x 11‖, X1983.7.25, Gift of George and Nina Winkel. Photo courtsey of Plattsburgh State Art Museum.
Proud Spirits is aptly named. Head held high, eyes wide, left front foot raised; the horse seems poised for a grand gallop across an open meadow. A closer look at the sculpture makes the viewer aware of the piecemeal construction method. The smooth muscles, prominent structure, and flowing mane were crafted by welding together many small pieces of cooper and silver.
Nina Winkel (1905-1990) worked with metals during the latter half of her life. In 1959 she began moving away from working in clay towards creating welded copper sculptures. Today this seems inconsequential but at the time it was unconventional. She was the first woman in New York City to get a welder's license. This fact becomes more impressive when learning her small stature; she was only five feet tall. Winkel eventually had to switch to an acetylene torch because she lacked the strength to handle the heavier welding equipment.
The sculpture in question is much more than its material. Proud Spirits is also about the spirited subject matter - a prancing horse seemingly so full of life that it appears to dance off its base. Winkel’s mastery of the subject suggests that it is a familiar subject matter. This deduction is supported by her own words. Winkel spoke about the piece during an informal lecture in 1988. The VHS recording of the lecture was transcribed by Sally Booth later that year. Winkel’s quote reads:
"This piece called Proud Spirits show [sic] the powerful horse. Just then I was interested as a child in horses as in stars. I also have liked horses very much and I have done repeatedly things with horses, or a single horse and this is sort of a humorous horse, kicking horse. It is very popular, especially with the children, I’m told by the docents who take care of visiting children." -Nina Winkel (October 9, 1988)
It is true that Proud Spirits is a favorite with children during their tour of Winkel. They are fascinated with the sculpture and routinely declare that horses are their favorite animal. It is unlikely that is a coincidence. As Winkel states, she was also fascinated by horses as a child.
Winkel’s childhood was an unhealthy one. A rare bone disease affiliated with a type of Tuberculosis kept her confined to her bed for two years. She spent many hours reading books, listening to music, and creating art during this time of healing. Her strongest interests were horses and astronomy - two subjects she revisited throughout her career.
To see Proud Spirits and additional artwork inspired by her childhood interests, visit Plattsburgh State Art Museum. All are located in the Winkel Sculpture Court. The approximately forty five sculptures housed in the atrium style space are a testament to Nina Winkel’s artistic ability.
Winkel Sculpture Court. Photo courtsey of Plattsburgh State Art Museum.
About the Plattsburgh State Art Museum:
Plattsburgh State Art Museum is located on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus. It exists to collect, study, preserve, exhibit, interpret, and publish original works of art. The museum is committed to advance the academic goals of the College and contribute to the cultural education of the northern New York & southern Canadian regions. The museum is open daily 12- 4pm and closed legal holidays. For more information, contact the museum office at 518-564-2474 or email@example.com. Or visit us at plattsburgh.edu/museum and Facebook.com/PlattsburghStateArtMuseum.