It was my love of horses that brought me to the United States in 1978. Prior to that time, I had always been interested in art and sculpting, but my passion for horses was always my first priority. Then when the thoroughbred racing stable that I worked for moved to the United States, I was given the opportunity to accompany my beloved horses. It was here in America that I finally understood the true meaning of freedom. There are more opportunities and fewer barriers for women in United States than in Europe. Upon my arrival, I was encouraged to apply for my trainer’s license and pursue a career in art – something that would have been impossible for me to do while living in France. I love the country of my birth and visit my family and friends often, but I have made the United States my home and I choose to celebrate this choice with my artwork. Every experience I have had in my life is reflected in my artwork. The beauty and nobility of the countless horses I have worked with, the country of my birth and the country I adopted as an adult – all meld together to create an experience that is evident in my sculptures. I work in bronze because there is tremendous life and strength in this medium – Not unlike the tremendous life and strength of the horses I’ve ridden. For years, I communicated to horses through the subtle gesture of my hands. Now I am using my hands to communicate through my artwork.
Celou Bonnet grew up surrounded by the beauty of Provence. Born in Carpentras, France, Celou’s earliest memories are of the scent of lavender, thyme and rosemary, the warmth of the sun and the unbridled love of her family. Her childhood was resplendent with carefree activities that she shared with her sister and her brothers. “You could say we grew up a bit wild,” recalls Celou,” we were respectful of our parents, but we spent a great many hours outdoors” Although her family was by no means affluent, they were wealthy beyond imagination with the qualities that are important to a child.
Her Grandfather, classically trained as an artist, had a small house near Aix-en-Provence in the village of Vauvenargues. Celou and her sibling spent many Sundays hiking on Mont Sainte Victoire which was immortalized half a century earlier by Paul Cezanne. She also remembers visiting the home of Picasso for whom her grandfather worked. In her hometown of Carpentras, she visited a home where Degas vacationed. “At the time, I did not know how much my childhood would later influence my art-work,” remarks Celou,” but given where I grew up, I can hardly deny that I was not also influenced by the beauty of the region.”
When Celou was a teenager, she fell in love for the first time – with an Arabian horse named Gitan. Celou and Gitan spent endless hours exploring the hills surrounding her home. She became an expert rider and later moved to Chantilly, near Paris, to work with thoroughbred racehorses. She had good fortune (and pleasure) to work with some of the finest European racehorses. When the stable she worked for relocated to the United States, Celou traveled with the horses and made her home in New York.
In 1981, Célou moved to California to work for famed thoroughbred racehorse trainer Charlie Whittingham. She continued to ride horses, however, it was her move to Fallbrook in the winter of 1984 when she finally realized her artistic destiny – to create sculpture in bronze. She learned the technique of working with bronze from Bill Yancy at the Hammerman foundry in Escondido. She perfected her impressionistic style in the spirit of Degas. “There is something in the movement of horses that can only be expressed in the form of an impression. It is that ephemeral moment, when we catch a glimpse of their spirit, that I am trying to express in my artwork,” In 1999, Célou was honored with the distinction of “Artist of the Year” by the Fallbrook Art Association.
Thought her long and varied life, art and horses seemed forever linked in the heart of Célou. In 1988, Célou was still riding occasionally at Santa Anita, when she was selected from Charlie Whittingham’s stable to ride as a jockey in an amateur race to benefit the United States Equestrian Team who were destined for the Olympics. She finished second – bringing heartfelt congratulations and much-needed funds to the team.
On September 23. 2000. Célou Bonnet became an American citizen
Célou celebrates her 25 years of riding and caring for equines by creating magnificent bronze sculptures in her expressive impressionistic style. Many of her creations are made and donated to charitable organizations, which benefit horses, and those who care for them.
The work entitled “Friends” brilliantly captures the warm interaction between human and horse. This imaginative piece was designed for the Fran Joswick Riding Center for disabled children. Célou generously donated this piece which was used to raise $25,000 at a benefit for this wonderful organization.
With the success of “Friends,” her talents are in great demand. Célou was asked to create two sculptures for the Santa Fe Hunt which she titled “Astro and the Fox” and “Gary and the Pup.” She then went on to create “Pawneese” for the St. Margaret’s School, “Prix de Diane for the Grand Prix Jumping at the Oaks Classic in San Ruan Capistrano and “Pegassus” for the United Pegasus Foundation, an organization devoted to the care, feeding an rehabilitation of ex-racehorses.
Among her more celebrated pieces are “The Last Chukker” which she created for polo enthusiast and vintner Brookes Firestone. She created a bronze of the Kentucky Derby winner “Ferdinand” for the horse’s owner Mr. H. Keck. She has also sculpted the whip that Bill Shoemaker carried while riding Ferdinand that is signed by Bill Shoemaker and trainer Charlie Whittingham. She created a bronze of Sunday Silence,a horse she rode when he was an unknown two year old racehorse.
Célou create a bronze sculpture of the whip Laffit Pincay Jr. carried during his world record setting of 8,834 wins. This sculpture is signed By Laffit Pincay jr. and is a limited edition of 50. All proceeds will benefit retired thoroughbred racehorses, the United Pegasus Foundation.
Her creativity is unlimited and many new sculptures are created every year with joy and passion for her work.
Art in Public Places
On April 13,1991, Célou unveiled the bust of trainer Charlie Whittingham and his dog Toby at the Santa Anita Racetrack. Célou chose to honor the trainer on his birthday, Regretfully, Charlie Whittingham has since passed on, but his legend lives on in the main paddock at Santa Anita.
In 2000, a beautiful bronze titled “Bonjour” was unveiled in the village square in Fallbrook. The Fallbrook Village Rotary donated this sculpture to the community. The name represents both the friendly images associated with Fallbrook, and also the love a new citizen has in her heart for her adopted county.
2001 – She was commissioned to create a bronze bust of Colonel Miller for the Army and Navy Academy School of Carlsbad, CA.
2002 – she create for the Chumash Casino in Santa Ygnez, CA, a 36″ table consist of three dolphins on granite base with a 5 foot glass top for the lobby of the hotel and 4 lamps, also with three dolphins, for the VIP lounge.
2003 – Three monarch butterflies in bronze (30″, 20″, 10″) on boulders was unveiled on September 6th. Entitled “Wings of Remembrance” for the Fallbrook Hospital Hospice to remember the love one who past away.
2004 – A 6 foot monument bronze sculpture of a fireman and a little boy holding his rescued Dalmatian puppy was unveiled on September 11th for the North County Fire Department of Fallbrook.
2004 – A bronze plaque of Bill and Helen Ross is display at the Art & Cultural Center in Fallbrook for the Home Town Hero program.