Steamboat Art Museum

Donna Howell Sickles 2013

Although classically trained, Howell-Sickles is not formula driven. Indeed, her work is expressionistic in its rejection of literal or objective reality.

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Donna Howell Sickles – Cowgirl Artist

06/07/2013 – 10/12/2013


Essay by Susan Hallsten McGarry

Donna Howell-Sickles values heritage and its transmission of energy into the present. You can see it in the nearly 500 acres of overgrazed rangeland that she and husband John Sickles are returning to its former grassland glory. It’s also apparent in their barn-cum-home, which is appointed with repurposed antiques and decorated with a wall of local limestone that includes fossilized shells which tell of the area’s evolution from a primordial sea. In the nearby town of St. Jo, Texas, the Sickles have breathed new life into neglected buildings—notably, several 19th-century storefronts on Main Street that they’ve restored and now use as living, work, and gallery spaces. “Since the turn of the new millennium, I’ve been both a country girl and city girl,” Howell-Sickles says of her studio, which recently relocated to the second-floor of one of their Main Street buildings overlooking the town square.

The philosophy of cherishing the past, while giving it contemporary relevance is also at the heart of Howell-Sickle’s art. The cowgirl who has become her storyteller is a blend of mythological goddesses, turn-of-the-century Wild West show performers, the resilient farm women of Howell-Sickles’ youth, and the artist herself, who is making her mark in the 21st century. “The cowgirl is grounded and at one with Earth and the animals that are her companions,” Howell-Sickles says. “Confident in her birthright, she is free to take a leap of faith in acknowledging her own happiness and her desire to make the world a better place for future generations.”

It is significant that all of her paintings start as drawings made with charcoal, a carbon-based material used for centuries to communicate with others. “My art begins with line and ends with line, which I consider not only beautiful, but the most exciting thing that I do. I love the drama of line that creates an edge between then and now, nothing and something, peace and energy,” she says.

Within her passages of line is color. “I believe you come into the world with a color preference,” she says of her abstract paintings, which were done in college and display the same primal hues found in her later work: warm, energetic reds contrasted with cool, deep blues. These opposites are neither positive nor negative. Rather, they are yin-yang forces of the moment and eternity that complement one another, then expand beyond the boundaries of the canvas or paper. “I like control and balance, but I also seek out surprises and dynamic compositions that suggest movement. Nothing in this world is static. My art has always been about past, present, and future,” she says.

Although classically trained, Howell-Sickles is not formula driven. Indeed, her work is expressionistic in its rejection of literal or objective reality. “I love to exaggerate in order to convey emotions. The cowgirl and her environments are figments of my imagination and personal mythology. It is important to rely on what you know, but just as critical to stray from the path,” she asserts, concluding with a favorite quote by Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922): ‘Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so, you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before. Follow it up, explore all around it, and before you know it, you will have something worth thinking about ….’”