Gift Idea: Buy Local Art! Spotlight on Dana Feagin
On a recent stop in downtown Ashland, I popped into Ashland Art Center—and was immediately greeted by a painting of a cow (what you see on this issue’s cover). I was smitten. Something about the creature’s smirk was infectious.
That sly smile—and the painting—are a window to a larger story, and we are so happy that local painter Dana Feagin shared insights into her art and passion for understanding animals.
Looking for a meaningful gift this holiday? Buying art can be tricky, as tastes can be so specific. But buying art as a gift is also the opposite from buying an Amazon card: It is personal, local and specific. Perhaps take a friend on a shopping trip to a local gallery—let them pick out what they like. Or, be more subtle and take note what they seem to like, and return later to pick it up.
Rogue Valley Messenger: What can you tell us about the cow on our cover that you painted? Is this a local cow?
Dana Feagin: Yes, that’s Cookies, she’s a former blood donor cow from UC Davis; she arrived at Sanctuary One with her Charolais friend Cream. Cookies later bonded with Holly, a rescued calf. The two became inseparable and were adopted together by a local family.
RVM: Almost invariably, the animals in your paintings seem happy or content. How do you capture or create that mood—and is it important to the philosophy about what you are presenting that each animal seems to be in the middle of laughing at a joke or smiling at a friend?
DF: I am really drawn to the sweet and funny expressions animals make. Capturing an animal’s expression is what makes painting them fun and interesting. Many of the animals in my paintings are from sanctuaries and shelters, and sharing their story is an important part of my art.What I know about each animal is on the back of my paintings. Some have overcome great odds just to be alive, and yet, they can be so trusting and joyful again. I like to show those happier moments—after their second chance at something better. One of my recent paintings “Into the Sunlight” is a portrait of Arthur from Arthur Acres Sanctuary. Sammantha Fisher, a professional photographer, allowed me to paint from a photograph that really shows his human-like eyes. Arthur was the last remaining piglet on a farm to table establishment for sale, where animals were raised and slaughtered on-site. Luck was on his side when a potential buyer with plans for a pig sanctuary visited the property and found Arthur alone without fresh food or water. He considered it a sign, purchased the property and negotiated Arthur into the deal. Arthur became the first pig in sanctuary at this newly created rescue.
RVM: An important component of your art is that you give proceeds to various animal welfare organizations. Who is HeARTS Speak, and how did you become aware of them?
DF: When I left my corporate job, I knew I wanted to do something to help animals and also create art, something I was discouraged from pursuing as a career when I was younger. I started volunteering at the county animal shelter and took up oil painting. Over time, I realized that I was really only interested in painting animals and nothing else, so my art became all about animals. I started painting commissioned pet portraits, local sanctuary/shelter animals, and donating some of my sales and artwork to animal charities to help with their fundraising efforts. Now I donate all of my art proceeds to animal charities. There are so many organizations doing good things helping animals & there is always a need for money to keep that going.
HeARTs Speak is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization uniting art and advocacy to increase the visibility of shelter animals. As an artist member, you are required to give back to the animal welfare community. Some members offer free photography services to shelters. Others, like me, use their art in other ways to benefit animals. I discovered HeARTs Speak from another animal artist when I was just beginning to paint & was happy to find a group of like-minded artists. I’ve been a member for about 10 years now.
RVM: Did you have animals growing up?
DF: We had one family dog and a few smaller animals over the years, but I always wanted more pets. Like many kids, I was told that I could have more pets when I moved out of the house and lived on my own.
RVM: If you were to come back in your next life as an animal, what do you think it would be—and, if different, what would you like it to be?
DF: I’d definitely choose to be a human animal. Most people don’t value other animals’ lives in the same way as human lives and sometimes make decisions that impact them in negative ways. I wouldn’t want to be hunted, farmed, or possibly poisoned as a pest. Even as a beloved family pet, your guardians may not fully understand your needs. It just seems more complicated for other animals.
RVM: You currently have three former shelter dogs and five rescued bunnies. Do they all get along?
DF: My Border Collie has a strong herding instinct, so I don’t completely trust him with the bunnies. I also have two separate bunny families. They are funny about who they accept, so I have a bonded trio and a pair, with my studio divided by exercise pen fencing running across the room. It’s not ideal, but it works. I’m also currently fostering three bunnies for Friends of the Animal Shelter (FOTAS), so it’s temporarily a little crowded. FOTAS has a growing need for rabbit foster families, so if any of your readers are interested, I’d encourage them to visit the FOTAS website and complete an application.
RVM: Where are good places to find your art?
DF: My art is always on display in the main gallery at Ashland Art Center, and online in my Etsy shop (esty.com.shop/DanaFeagin) and website DanaFeagin.com.