When it launched its first Mint Julep artist contest, Early Times wanted someone who could capture the true spirit of all things Derby. After receiving dozens of entries from across the country, Early Times found Marita Walizer.
Being from Louisville and experiencing Derby festivities first hand, Walizer was able to capture exactly what Early Times was looking for in her original painting titled “Derby Cheers.”
A native of Louisville, Walizer now lives in Oklahoma, but she is proof that you can take the girl out of the Bluegrass but not the Bluegrass out of the girl.
How did you hear about the contest?
I heard about it from family in Louisville. I’m a Louisville native, attended UK and graduated from U of L. I lived there for 28 years, until I married and moved to Oklahoma City
How long have you been painting?
I’ve always drawn. I went to Chenoweth with Smith Haynie, son of Courier-Journal political cartoonist Hugh Haynie. The other kids elected us as the “art king and queen” in second grade.
I started oil painting 23 years ago and studied with some of the finest artists, such as Ron S. Riddick and Jim Wilcox. Marcum’s in Anchorage handles my originals, locally, or at www.maritawalizer.com.
My sister is an architect and historical building artist in Louisville, who handles my prints, too. We donate partial proceeds from prints and some originals to Apple Patch, a nonprofit residential community for mentally and physically challenged adults. My youngest sister lives there, and loves it.
I’ve been painting thoroughbreds and Derby hats for about 20 years. I only had two weeks to do the artwork. One Saturday, several friends unexpectedly came over, and I asked them to model for me. I knew how the sun travels across Churchill Downs, so I oriented them as if they were in a box in the stands. I gave them some of my mint julep glasses garnished with mint from a nearby planter, and some Derby hats I use for paintings. It was a blazing hot 100-degree day.
As I worked on the painting in my studio later on, I realized that what makes the Derby great is not just the rich traditions, history, activities and horses, but getting to celebrate with people you love and enjoy. We get so caught up in the moment, we often forget the people.
We lost my father the day after last year’s Derby, so he was very much on my mind as I worked on the art, just six weeks later. I put him, my mother and other close Kentucky relatives into the painting to honor them.
What is your favorite Derby memory?
I was there for the best – Secretariat’s 1973 Derby. I’m in the racing footage on the far turn. I loved “the big guy” and saw him many times at Claiborne Farms near Paris, Ky. What a personality!
My husband and I even went to see him on our first date – and we are about to celebrate our 25th anniversary. He was awesome in every way.
My father was the chief julep maker at our Derby parties. He used Early times, their julep glass collection and enough of Mom’s homegrown mint that the fragrance would freshen your breath just walking into the kitchen.
Will you attend Derby this year?
Yes, as a guest of Brown-Forman, who sponsored the contest. I’ll be doing bottle and print signings during Derby week also.
What are you looking forward to most?
This will be a bittersweet Derby for me. I’m looking forward to all the excitement and everyone debating the merits of the horses and jockeys. As a horse person, I look forward to being back on the backside of the track. I’m also thrilled to see my first Derby from real seats, not the infield, like in ’73.
On a sadder note, my mother passed away just five months after my Dad. She was so excited about me winning the contest, just busting her buttons. She also got to see the winning painting, and said, “I like it; it’s pretty.”
Her smile was the most meaningful compliment, ever.
This will be my first visit to their memorial at Cave Hill, not far from where they first lived. I was originally hoping to spend Derby with Mom, but now they are smiling down from heaven. I’ll still get to see the rest of my relatives and lifelong friends.
What do you miss most about Louisville?
My childhood memories and youth were spent in Louisville, and all over Kentucky. I miss the wood and streams, the state parks, the fishing and especially the horse farms and stables. I’ve probably been in every barn in Jefferson county (many are long gone).
I miss the spectacle of the pink and white dogwoods in spring and the blaze of glory in fall – Mom’s favorite season. Most of all, I miss the good times with great family and wonderful friends who really care about each other.
Category: The Spotlight
About the Author (Author Profile)
Voice-Tribune Staff Writer Lauren DePaso enjoys being a tourist in her own city, exploring the nightlife and cheering on the Cards. A Louisville native, she currently resides in St. Matthews.