Cow painter to be featured at East Lansing Art Festival
owns a lot of cows. She owns milk cows, beef cows, longhorns and every subset of cattle that you could ever imagine. Her cows come in all shapes and sizes but are indiscriminately named just the same.
The peculiar detail about Marshall’s cattle farm in Saugatuck is that all of her cows exist only in painting, just like the barn. And all of her animals, clad in a candy-cane assortment of colors, will be on display this weekend at the 53rd Annual East Lansing Art Festival.
“I just got intrigued by their mass,” Marshall said about the cows she paints. “They’re huge animals and they have these angles around their hips and such. They make for great sculpture. They still intrigue me.”
The natural assumption when people pass Marshall’s booth is that she’s a farm girl, born and raised in a pastoral setting and infatuated with a bucolic lifestyle. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Marshall grew up in Boston, remaining an urbanite who spends seven months of the year in Ybor City, Florida, a historic neighborhood in Tampa.
“It isn’t like I grew up on a farm and just got enamored with them,” Marshall said. “Some people who grow up on a farm and raise cattle despise their life; they don’t like their life. And others feel very sentimental about it. When the farm is gone, which happens to most of them, they have good memories. So it’s funny because you never know which kind of person walks into my booth, whether they like what they see or they don’t like it.”
It was at the end of what Marshall calls her “country club days” when artwork enraptured her and became a full-time job. After playing golf four days a week throughout the year, Marshall became very bored. It was the cows that rescued her, and she has been thanking them through art in the 25 years since.
“Getting back to the country club life years ago, when I used golf a lot, I used to pass this farm where there were a lot of Holsteins,” Marshall said, referring to the common breed of dairy cattle. “I pulled over to the side of the road, and eventually, they all come down. They’re so curious. They all come down and hang with you at the side of the fence.”
When it’s summer and Florida is too hot, Marshall resides in the small town of Saugatuck with her own studio. She enjoys the small community life, but a farm life doesn’t lie in Marshall’s past, present or future.
“That’s the other question I get a lot, ‘Are these your cows?’” Marshall said in between bouts of laughter. “I would never stand up to that kind of workout. I think people who raise cows get up really early in the morning, and it’s a hard life, but they love it. The people who do it love it.”
Marshall’s attachment to the countryside survives through her florid cows. She affectionately refers to herself as the “Cow Painter” and knows that her subset of art is quite unique.
“There are people who paint cows, and we all bring our own perspective to it,” Marshall said. “Still, in all, it’s a very niche market and while people are intrigued by it, not everyone wants to own one. But you just need the right person to come in and appreciate it, even if they can’t afford the piece that they’re looking at.”
As an artist, Marshall constantly battles with swings of fortune. Usually, appreciation of her work isn’t a problem, but she said people are sometimes understandably reluctant to pay a large sum of money.
“(The profession is) kind of unpredictable,” Marshall said. “It isn’t as if you get a salary every week and know what to expect. It’s kind of a tricky life, I suppose.”
That difficulty has only been exacerbated in the technological era, according to Marshall. She thinks that getting a younger population to once again appreciate art and sacrifice cell phones for a day is no easy task, but that lively festivals, like this weekend’s East Lansing Art Festival, are the best hope.
“I think it really has an impact on the public when they get to meet you,” Marshall said.
Marshall also hopes that her style and technique will summon a few disenchanted eyes. Although the plethora of cows is sure to demand people’s attention, a pied palette gilding every cow vivifies their presence even more.
“What really got me going in both color and mark-making is (Vincent) Van Gogh,” Marshall said. “He used wonderful color, florals... I just really admired some of his painting so I suppose part of my subconscious just picked it up.”
Marshall will occupy booth number 138 at this year’s art festival, her fifth time attending in ten years. She can be found directly across the street from City Hall on Abbot Road. Regardless of the festival’s outcome, however, Marshall is happy just to be with her colorful crew of cows.
“It’s really what makes my heart sing when I can use all of these different colors on the animal,” Marshall said. “And it’s real. You know what you’re looking at. It’s not a mystery as to what’s going on. But the fun and the mystery is the color.”