Sam Savitt of North Salem, N.Y. – who lived from 1917 to 2000 – was considered the most accomplished American equestrian artist of his generation, and perhaps the most prolific, too. He was the official artist of the United States Equestrian Team and illustrated more than 130 books. He also wrote 15 books and co-authored two others. Many were short stories aimed principally at young people, though he also wrote about the U.S. Equestrian Team, rodeo, wild horses and other equine-related topics. His classic Draw Horses with Sam Savitt (published in 1981) is still in print. (It was translated into French in 2009.)
His drawing style was spare and sketch-like and he was known for capturing the movement of horses with energy and authenticity, with an economy of strokes. He painted and drew horses in a variety of media, including oil, watercolor, acrylic, pencil, gouache, ink and charcoal.
He worked for numerous commercial accounts and did portraits for such clients as Austine and William Randolph Hearst Jr., August Busch, Raymond Firestone and Jean Kennedy Smith. His widely sold “Sam Savitt’s Guide to Horses” is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. This was the first in his series of information charts about horses.
He was commissioned to do the official poster for the 1991 Kentucky Derby. In 1998, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Horseman’s Association, the only artist ever to be so honored. A similar honor was bestowed by Equus Magazine in 1986. The Chronicle of the Horse, a publication dedicated to the entire sport horse industry since 1937, published Sam Savitt artwork on its magazine cover 31 times — the most of any artist. In 1980, he was one of 10 internationally recognized equestrian artists who founded the American Academy of Equine Art in Lexington, Ky.
The son of a salesman, Mr. Savitt grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (In 1995, the city honored him for his lifelong accomplishments.) He graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1939. During World War II, he served in the Asia-Pacific theater and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. In 1950, he attended the Art Students League of New York and, in 1951, studied sculpture at the New School. His first major recognition came in 1958 when his book “Midnight, Champion Bucking Horse” won the Boys’ Club of America junior book award. In later years, Mr. Savitt augmented his writing and illustration with workshops on drawing and painting horses.