Around the Island

Celebrating Shelter Island’s horses

Diana Malcolmson’s painting, ‘The season is over so out they went,’ 6’ x 5’6,” oil on canvas.
Diana Malcolmson’s painting, ‘The season is over so out they went,’ 6’ x 5’6,” oil on canvas.

Diana Malcolmson is known on Shelter Island as the horse lady — and for good reason.

In 1986, she founded Hampshire Farms Equestrian Center, the first riding stable on the Island, and for the next two decades taught children and adults alike how to safely ride and care for horses. 

In 2006, Ms. Malcolmson sold Hampshire Farms and now she’s garnering some well-deserved attention for an entirely different talent — painting.

“I had 25 horses of my own, and 25 other people’s horses,” Ms. Malcolmson explained. “Some are still there. It’s been 10 years and we have one left — an Appaloosa.”

“He’s a racehorse and I love riding him,” she said. “You either do it or don’t do it. You have to ride him three times a week to keep fit. But I really want to paint now.”

Ms. Malcolmson’s preferred medium is oil (though she also works in pastels) and perhaps not surprisingly, her favorite subject matter are the horses of Hampshire Farms. Ms. Malcolmson also paints landscapes, specifically Shelter Island’s stunning scenery, and frequently her compositions are a masterful blending of the two.

Young Diana Malcolmson (holding bridle) and her sister riding their first pony, Molly, with their mother.
Young Diana Malcolmson (holding bridle) and her sister riding their first pony, Molly, with their mother.

Among them are “The season is over so out they went,” a large-scale painting that depicts clouds on a horizon darkened by a setting sun while a group of horses joyfully runs across an expanse of meadow — not unlike children on the last day of school. Another painting, “Horses at Sunrise, Hampshire Farms 2003” features five horses calmly munching grass in the foreground of a muted, pink light dawn.

“I haven’t got one tiny bit of the beauty of what was there,” Ms. Malcolmson said candidly as she discussed the painting during a recent interview at her Shelter Island home. “I usually get up at 6 in the morning and photograph. I do photograph like crazy — horses move around a lot.”

Though she rarely shows her work, several of Ms. Malcolmson’s equestrian themed pieces will be exhibited this weekend in Havens Barn as part of the annual Shelter Island Historical Society Members’ Kentucky Derby Party. In addition to Ms. Malcolmson’s paintings, the historical society has organized a small exhibit on Rachel Carpenter, the Island resident and A&P heiress who owned several racehorses (see separate story). The event will also include a “State of the Society” presentation followed by broadcast of the Kentucky Derby live on two big screens (ascots and derby hats are encouraged).

ANNETTE HINKLE PHOTO | Painter's tools in Diana Malcolmson's studio.
ANNETTE HINKLE PHOTO | Painter’s tools in Diana Malcolmson’s studio.

It will be an ideal day for people who love horses and on Shelter Island, probably no one knows horses like Ms. Malcolmson, who first came to the Island as a summer resident in 1969. She grew up riding on the southern coast of England in Hampshire County (Hampshire Farms’ namesake) and after spending so many years with horses, has a developed a deep understanding of their habits, personalities and physiology.

“I know their muscles, I know where they go, I’ve been with them so much,” she said. “I’ve always loved painting horses, and now I can.”

Ms. Malcolmson trained in art at London University and after moving to the United States in 1967 with her husband, attended the National Academy in New York. She also studied at the Art Students League and was a student of Henry Hensche, Charles Hawthorne’s right-hand man at the Cape Cod School of Art. After moving to Shelter Island to live full time in 1971, she earned two degrees at Long Island University’s Southampton College, a B.F.A. and B.S., which allowed her to teach.

Though she no longer owns Hampshire Farms, Ms. Malcolmson still has plenty of work to keep her busy, much of it creatively focused.

“I have to be up early. I can never sleep in,” she said. “There aren’t enough hours in the day to do what I want to do.”

Currently, Ms. Malcolmson is writing a book that will tell the story of her life with horses — from her earliest riding experiences to the creation of Hampshire Farms with the help of Dr. Bernard Ryan, the receptive landowner who made Ms. Malcolmson’s vision a reality, and the eventual preservation of the property.

“It’s such an incredible story — a little Island story,” said Ms. Malcolmson who will include her paintings in the book which she plans to publish later this year.

Diana Malcolmson's painting "Horses at Sunrise, Hampshire Farms 2003."
Diana Malcolmson’s painting “Horses at Sunrise, Hampshire Farms 2003.”

The Shelter Island Historical Society’s Kentucky Derby members party is Saturday, May 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Havens Barn. In addition to the other activities, author Amy Zavatto will be on hand to sign copies of her new book “Forager’s Cocktails.” The party is a members “thank you” and free to current Historical Society members. New members are invited to join for $50. To check membership status, donate or reserve for the party, call 749-0025.