Eleanor Iselin Wade paused to think about when, exactly, she arrived at the Middleburg Sporting Library.
"Oh," she said. "It's been a long, long time ago."
Her caregiver, Tina Flint, corrected her. "Now, Winnie, what you meant to say was that we got here last night."
Never mind. Wade, 89--known since childhood as Winnie--shrugged her stooped shoulders, shook her head and took a few steps leaning on her cane. Then she stepped off the elevator, straightened her back, lifted her white head and smiled.
"Aw!" she said, as she reached out with a wrinkled hand and touched the glass surrounding a bronze sculpture of a man leading a playful horse named Erin's Shore. "This is it."
The piece is one of Wade's 20 original bronze sculptures on display at the library through February. She first came back to Middleburg a few weeks ago for the exhibit's debut and to visit her alma mater, Foxcroft School, from which she graduated in 1927. It was the first time she had returned to the area since moving to a Montana ranch more than 70 years ago.
As she toured the exhibit, Wade described the sculpture of her late husband, Cactus, leading the thoroughbred, which she made not long after her husband's death in 1976.
"It's called 'Dance of the Pixies,' " she said. Erin's Shore "was an excellent and intelligent colt. . . . He would cavort and play and sometimes get down and roll. Cactus would give him a stern glance, but then he'd smile and laugh," Wade said. "I'm sure the horse laughed, too."
Her pieces range from posed sculptures of proud or stoic-looking horses to more complicated and modern designs of polo players and trainers leading their horses or trying to break in a bucking horse. Some of her pieces are on permanent display at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
About a half-dozen of her original sketches from the second edition of "My Friend Flicka," a popular children's book by Mary O'Hara, which Wade illustrated in 1944, are also on display at the Middleburg library.
"Her things have life, inspiration from her experiences," said Field Horne, who set up the exhibit and is the curator of the National Museum of Racing. "They are influenced by modernism, streamlined and smooth. She took what she saw and made it into something."
Wade developed an affinity for horses growing up on her family's 900-acre farm in Bedford, N.Y., where she learned how to ride and care for horses mostly from her grandfather's coachman. Her work in the stalls translated to paper.
"As early as I can remember, I held a pencil and sketched horses," she said. "I used anything I could get, sand and clay, to sculpt them."
In 1925, she entered Foxcroft, where she sold what she calls her "most terrible pieces of artwork" to relatives to pay to board her horse, Blue Ridge. She had the high-spirited jumper shipped to school so she could ride him with the Middleburg Hunt. When she graduated from Foxcroft, she was awarded a trophy for best rider showmanship.
She went on to study sculpting at the Royal Academy of Art in London and graduated in 1931. Then she took over running her family's farm. In 1941, with the onset of World War II, Wade could hardly get her hands on bronze, and her full-time farming duties took up most of her time anyway.
Then, in 1947, she headed west, seeking more land on which to raise cattle. In 1954, she bought a 300-acre ranch for $16,000 in Libby, Mont., where she still raises thoroughbreds.
"On good days, Winnie still gets out there with the best of us, mucking stalls and feeding," said Cameron O. Flint, a retired television producer who became her ranch manager in 1982. She was riding even in her eighties, but she stopped last year after she broke her neck--not on a horse, but in her home.
"I never did bow from hard work," Wade said. "My brother and sister would curl up at the mention of a pitchfork. I figured you might as well get in there and do it yourself."
Her hard work sometimes led to an idea for a sculpture. She can clearly recount how one of her pieces--"Galloway Calf," a small calf resting near its mother--came about almost 25 years ago.
"The fellows were hashing over where to put the irrigation ditches, and I was totally cut out of the conversation," she said. "They didn't want to have anything to do with a girl. I got bored with them, so I grabbed this beautiful blue clay in the ditch just asking to be made into something.
"In a few minutes, there was a calf and a mother," she said, as she rubbed her hands together as if she were making something. "They all just stared at me."
Much of her early work was commissioned by acquaintances of her father, a New York businessman. Typically, the friends owned race horses and wanted portraits or sculptures done of them. Wade laughed that she probably used her imagination too much, making them less formal than the owners might have liked.
"There's a simple connection that draws me to it," she said of her work. "There's a marvelous connection between the brain, the hands and the eyes. . . . It's a fascinating brain-driven desire to make things."
Her latest work-in-progress is on her coffee table at home. After seeing her 2-year-old thoroughbred, Montana Hoofer, win two stakes races this summer, she decided to draw him, then build a wire frame of his body. Then she will take it to a foundry to be cast into bronze.
"I think sometimes God gives you something like that, and if you still have work to do, He will make you keep on working," Wade said. "I'll keep on sculpting until the good Lord says, 'You can't do it anymore.' "
CAPTION: Eleanor Iselin Wade looks at a sculpture from 1991, one of 20 pieces of her artwork on display at the Middleburg Sporting Library through February.