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Oct 25, 2019
Artists Inspiration: Donna Howell-Sickles
Donna Howell-Sickles redefines the wary stereotypes that represented Western women during her childhood in Texas and New Mexico in the 50s and 60s. Using charcoal, pastel, graphite, and acrylic on paper or canvas, Donna portrays Western women as she knew them — strong, capable, humorous and bonded as sisters. Her work is rich with symbolism and allusions to classical mythology that “fits the American West like a glove.” During her recent visit to Basalt, Colorado for the opening reception of Cowgirls and the Western Plains, Donna explained the symbolism, inspiration, and the moments captured in her new series of works.
Donna Howell-Sickles sharing her stories to an enthralled crowd

“The whole idea for [We Are All In This Together] is that we are who we are, but we are not alone. We are in this race together. Life is a race, primarily with yourself, to get where you need to be in relation to all kinds of things, in relation to you, your family, your God, your stories, your art, all of the things that make you, you; you have to come to terms with it at some point in time, and that part itself makes it a bit of an exhilarating race. 

As far as the way it looks, it’s a slight departure because it’s paper on panel that I made, and then it’s collage, which I haven’t used often. I took a lot of older canvases and cut out this silhouette of a runner. Some of the ones I cut out — kind of randomly because I did it all on the backside — contain signatures, so it’s got 4-5 signatures in the whole piece.”

Donna Howell-Sickles - We Are All in This Race
Donna Howell-Sickles, “We Are All in This Race,” Mixed Media Collage on Paper on Canvas, 42.25 x 28.75 in

I’ve not gotten a bison that’s satisfied me as much as this one—yet. To me, she looks like a Western woman, and I don’t necessarily mean cowgirl; I mean who we are: with strength and self-confidence. That drawing of her is really too simple to carry a strong piece, I think, but then when I add it with this bison, with all that complicated stuff that goes on—there’s color everywhere, and there’s stuff stuck in –all kinds of things. This could be sunrise or sunset, it’s a time change and then this, it’s Fall, a time of preparation. His coat is super heavy, he’s ready. You’ve got all the elements of the West—the bison embodies that with the danger, watchfulness, preparation, and massive size that it takes to cope with that kind of life and survive it. And the prairie grass that makes all that life possible. She’s got little prairie roses scattered across her chaps. Compositionally, that’s a very strong piece. 

It’s the awe that I feel of how beautiful this world is that we live in. The changing light, the drama of the natural world. You know how complicated that was [pointing to the antlers]. I like her laugh out loud wonder at the whole thing. They are related in their approach to life. 

Donna Howell-Sickles - I Can See for 100 Miles
Donna Howell-Sickles, “I Can See for 100 Miles,” Mixed Media, 22 x 30 in

I took this photo, and had this moment. There’s not a complicated story here. I don’t weave elements of symbolism, or anything really, into it because the beauty of that little animal is enough. All I am making is a statement about what a great shape that was. There’s an innocence to that face that is totally compelling without me adding any of my own drama. And then my drawing style is just the way I draw, so that part it has in common with everything else that I do. But the fact that this is only about the beauty and essence of deer, is all I have to say. Does it say about that deer all that I want it to say. It doesn’t tell a story, it doesn’t carry anything, it just celebrates a moment. 

I love the way the fawns bounce and frolic, and come back to their point of security [their mother]. I love how she’s not afraid of me anymore, but she’s not going to quit watching. I do love the simplicity, and I like that funny titanium green. It’s a cool color. I added more white to the left hand side—it’s so subtle. If you don’t know, you don’t know, but it brightens the piece.

Donna Howell-Sickles - Hiding in Plain SightDonna Howell-Sickles - Watchful Eyes
Donna Howell-Sickles “Hiding In Plain Sight” “Watchful Eyes”

Having the patterning behind the foreground is something new. When my husband saw [A Team to Pull the Moon] for the first time, he was like, “you haven’t ever done anything like that before.” And he’s right, I haven’t. 

Having the patterning behind the foreground is something new. When my husband saw [A Team to Pull the Moon] for the first time, he was like, “you haven’t ever done anything like that before.” And he’s right, I haven’t. 

The whole surface has uniform spotting with the clouds and the longhorns. Most of my pieces have more solid areas without so much patterning, but in doing this one I had these longhorns and I kept building these spots [on the longhorn], and building [the clouds], then I drew on top of the clouds in graphite, so it kind of pushed it back a little bit. It has way more of a backdrop feel than some of my work. 

Donna Howell-Sickles - A Team to Pull the Moon
Donna Howell-Sickles, “A Team to Pull the Moon,” Mixed Media on Paper, 30 x 34.5 x 2 in
Donna Howell-Sickles - Trading Images
Donna Howell-Sickles, “Trading Images,” Mixed Media on Paper, 22 x 30 in

[Trading Images] is the beginning of something special. There were a lot of photographers from the 1800s in the West –in Montana, in Wyoming, in New Mexico– that influenced what I do because their eye was unique, and I saw something in their work that I really related to. 

One of those photographers was Evelyn Cameron. She was British, but lived in Montana with her husband, Ewen Cameron in the late 1800s (1868-1928). He focused on wildlife observations, he taxidermized birds, did a lot of animal rescue, and falconry. 

Evelyn was left to run the ranch, and she did. She wasn’t schooled in photography, but realized after she got there that portraits were something that she could do that would actually make a little bit of money. So she got this big box camera and then documented her part of the West with some amazing photographs—from pioneering women doing “man’s work” on the ranch to the first photographs of birds in their native habitat.

These are all elements that came from one of her photos that I put together. She often had her white horse in the photographs for scale. To be perfectly honest, in the original photograph, it was originally a coyote [in a box]. It wasn’t the happiest story, so I altered it slightly. Evelyn’s intent was to record the West. My intent is not that—my intent is to capture the spirit. When she did that photo of the coyote in a box, it was beautifully graphic, and I hadn’t really seen that before, especially since it was in the late 1800s. My take to it, as the eternal optimist here, made [the fox] there by choice. I had a young lady from Montana be my model because I thought that kind of pulled it all together. My idea is to move forward with this and do bigger pieces loosely based on some of her work and maybe 3 other women who are also inductees into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. 

Learn more about Donna Howell-Sickles, or request her work, by visiting Ann Korologos Gallery at 211 Midland Avenue in Basalt, Colorado, visiting her artist page, or by contacting us by emailing art@korologosgallery.com.

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