Making a living as an artist can be difficult.
"It's brutal," said Rusty Freeman, who has been the director of visual arts for four years at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in downstate Mount Vernon. "It's competitive. It's very much a rigorous choice to get into. It's much harder than the average person realizes."
Because it is a difficult field of endeavor, Cedarhurst staffers came up with a plan this year to showcase at least three works from college graduates in its 90-acre outdoor sculpture park.
One of those chosen in the inaugural year is the 8-foot-high "Homeward Bound," created by 2009 Monticello High School graduate Kirbi Eckerty.
"It's pretty exciting," Eckerty said of the work, a representational depiction of a horse's head.
Not only was it the biggest piece she ever created, but it also taught her new skills because it needs to withstand the outdoor setting for a year.
"Bending steel is something I've never done," the 2013 Eastern Illinois University studio art graduate said of the 14-gauge steel that formed the piece.
She also learned to weld as she created the three-dimensional sculpture.
Cedarhurst accepted applications for the display, which involved submission of a scaled-down model. After being accepted, Eckerty was free to make the full-sized work.
Eckerty began to notice her artistic tendencies in junior high school.
"Kids doodle, and I doodled more than anyone else," she said.
But it wasn't until after high school that she decided to make it her main focus. She will continue her studies with the pursuit of a master's degree from EIU this fall. It is part of a backup plan that will allow her to teach art as well.
But her first goal is to "make art and have people be interested in what I make."
That's music to the ears of Freeman, who said encouraging artists is what Cedarhurst is all about.
"We want to showcase local, regional artists coming out of school," he said. "It's really difficult getting ready to have your work put up to public scrutiny."
Freeman said the program walks graduates through the process of applying to have artwork displayed.
Eckerty said three-dimensional art is her passion, although she is "starting to paint more" as she takes additional coursework.
Her sculpture will be on display until next June at Cedarhurst, 2600 Richview Road. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Recent graduates from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Illinois also have work in the sculpture park. In addition to the sculpture park, Cedarhurst also includes three indoor galleries and a performance hall.