It’s 5:30 AM. Regenerative farmer and artist Rachel Catlett enters her farmhouse basement studio at Brown Dog Farm in Wisconsin with her first cup of coffee. For the next 2 hours, the horsehair that make up Rachel’s brushes bring Americas endangered farm animals to life with NPR radio ever-present in the background. At 7:30 she starts farm chores.
This has been Rachel’s daily routine since she and her husband Ed started Brown Dog Farm in 2015. After 30 years in horticulture, she was finally able to combine her love for farming and painting. A member of The Livestock Conservancy, one of Rachel’s goals is raising heritage breeds in order to save endangered farm animals from extinction. The multiple breeds of heritage chickens and Fawn Indian Runner ducks not only provide them with fresh eggs, but also help control ticks and slugs. A flock of Icelandic, Border Leicester and Tunis sheep and Angora goats are guarded from coyotes by guard llama, Nonna.
“I have always loved all sorts of farm animals. My paternal grandparents had a farm in Virginia and my maternal grandparents were ranchers in Colorado.” Rachel explains, “When I seriously began my painting practice, I decided to give myself a project of painting what I loved, make them small so I could accomplish them in short painting sessions, and create a body of work that would align with my interests and values as a farmer.”
To raise awareness of endangered farm animals, Rachel has begun on the ambitious and admirable journey of painting all 196 heritage breeds that are listed on the Livestock Conservancy Conservation Priority List. She has completed all the horses and donkeys on the list and has now begun painting 21 endangered cattle breeds, including Pineywoods Cattle. She completed her oil painting of Rocky, the Pineywoods bull featured on Pineywoods Cattle Foundation homepage, earlier this month.
“I really enjoy the research as much as the actual painting.” Rachel adds, “I probably spend more time researching and finding source images than making the paintings. What has surprised me about this process is how many farmers and ranchers I have connected with and how much I have learned about their work protecting and promoting the breeds they raise. I use Instagram and Facebook to find images, then that usually leads me to farm websites and breed organizations. I collect picture files by breed and then try to find where the animals are raised. My favorite images to paint are the ones that I actually know the name of the animal. After I have a good group of images, I make drawings and work out compositions. I usually connect with the producers and continue to follow their social media accounts and track their progress. Every farm I follow, I learn something about how to raise animals and how I can grow my farm. “
Rachel's goal through painting is to raise awareness about the many endangered farm animals in America and to raise money for a good cause in the process. 10% of the painting sales will be donated to The Livestock Conservancy.
“My mom asked me what I was going to do with all these paintings. Eventually I would like to have a show and collect them all and hang them together. I think it will be amazing to see all these little square paintings hanging on the wall and see the genetic treasure we must protect. I think the group will be a powerful statement as to why we all are doing this work we believe in. I realize these animals are more than just pretty or rare animals. They need to be raised to provide healthy food for people in humane and responsible ways. Protecting the genetic diversity they represent makes our food system safer for the long run. Animals bred for specific uses and habitats help build healthy soil, and that is my ultimate goal for my farm, and the message I want to convey.”
If you have a photo you would like Rachel to consider for her collection, please connect with her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ArtistRachelCatlett/ or Instagram https://www.instagram.com/raegarden/ . She is also available for commission work.