The Horse Painter

Palmerton artist lives a life of agony and ecstacy.

Do you like to paint horses?

“Oh, yeah!” ecstatically responds 49-year-old Patti Delong of Palmerton as she points to a photorealistic acrylic painting displayed at the Carbon County Art Show. “Especially when I can paint horses the way these are coming out.”

Man O'War's legacy- War Admiral & Seabiscuit donated to Horse Rescue organizationShe has a warm spot in her heart for horses and in this painting Delong honors three of the world’s greatest racehorses: legendary chestnut Thoroughbred Man O’War, his son – triple crown winner – War Admiral, and his grandson – the winner of the greatest match race in American history – Seabiscuit.

Delong once owned horses. She once rode a motorcycle. Now there are days that she cannot even hold a paintbrush much less walk up several steps.

Over the past twenty years a combination of wrist, knee and shoulder problems led to nearly twenty surgeries—many improving the immediate problem but introducing a debilitating long-term problem.

Delong describes herself as having a tendency towards developing scar tissue. Each time she has an operation, the disturbed area reforms as an enlarged stiff scar.

It started in 1984 with her first operation—to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. It was just before carpal tunnel became better known because of this syndrome developing amongst computer users.

Delong thinks it runs in her family. After she had the operation, both her brother and sister had to have their carpal tunnels operated on. But by then, their surgeons needed to cut only one inch on each wrist. Delong’s surgeon cut four inches on each wrist—with the extra distance extending into the palms of her hands. When her surgery healed, the resulting scarring made painting difficult. Attempts to correct this problem led to further surgeries and further scarring.

Delong was diagnosed with arthritis in her knees – both her parents have this problem – and arthritis in the rotator cuff of her right shoulder. But while she can still hold a paintbrush in her right hand, her shoulder is often too weak or painful to support it when she works on an easel.

“There are days that I can’t paint,” said Delong. “There are times that my paintbrush will flip up and go airborne. It hurts but I’m not going to stop.”

Delong was born in Catasauqua in 1956, graduated from Catasauqua High School and studied commercial art at North Hampton County Area Community College. She worked at Tarkett Flooring as a photo-engraver until laid off in 1985 when she found work on a highway construction project. On the side, Delong painted motorcycle gas tanks for a local dealer.

She took a job taking care of 28 Arabian horses at a Danielsville horse farm. Soon, she fenced her yard and bought her first horse, an Arabian. “I broke the Arabian myself,” Delong said as her mind seemed to wander to a happier time. “Oh no. I didn’t do the bucking bronco thing. He just stood there and I was so happy.”

By 1990, the worsening condition of her hands and knees made riding impossible. So she sold the Arabian. “But I had this property with a fence all around and nothing out there, so I got an older quarter horse—just to mow the grass,” said Delong. “He was fun. You don’t have to ride a horse to have fun.” When he got too old, Delong got her last horse, a Tennessee Walker.

Two years ago when she could neither walk up her front steps nor afford the horse, she faced up to the fact that she would soon be living without the animal that she so dearly loved.

She moved in with her sister to a house in Palmerton once owned by her mother’s parents. And Delong began to paint horses.

She has painted a series of famous racehorses. “They would make a terrific calendar,” she said.

A current favorite among her paintings of horses is one of Singletary – winner of the Breeder’s Cup, a horse that bullied its way through the pack to win a $1.54 million purse at odds of 17 – 1.

The well-muscled Singletary, got its name from equally well-muscled Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker, Mike Singletary.

Delong envisioned a scene of the linebacker floating in a cloud above the racehorse. She painted the jockey and the horse’s blanket in the Chicago Bears colors of navy, orange and white to bind the characters to one another and painted a 5 on the blanket and a zero on the bridle. Mike Singletary’s number is 50. “I guess the owners of Singletary, just liked Mike,” Delong figured.

Unfortunately, when people think racehorses, they do not think of Carbon County, and consequently, even the best paintings of racehorses don’t sell very well locally.

She has made some sales on eBay. But eBay is a little like horseracing as Delong noted, “Sometimes I get lucky. Sometimes I lost my shirt.”