Growing up as an artist on a mid-Missouri subsistence farm was a study in severed heads and limbs, a disconnected experience that would’ve made an abstract painter out of anyone.
Most of our food came from the land. We butchered both hunted animals and farm animals on a daily basis. Squirrels, chickens, deer, cows. I became good at kneading joints with my fingers, on where to insert the knife to sever arm from torso with least resistance.
I was lucky enough to get a degree from one of the best journalism schools in the country. I left at 20 and became an international journalist in Japan, across Asia and in England for more than a decade. My focus was on the under-privileged, giving people a voice who had no voice. My parents were barely literate. I grew up noticing how few people listen to the poor, and I wanted them to have a voice in the world.
Then there was the “calling,” as if a hand came down from the skies and slapped me senseless. Find your own voice, it said. So, I gave up my jet-setting European life and came back to the U.S. to find myself as a visual artist and novelist. I’m working on a series of four novels now, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. And I’ve launched an art project called Beauty of the Beast.
A recent move to rural Oregon has meant I’m near farm animals again for the first time since I was a child. I’d already become a vegetarian, so I found myself in a position of painting the animals instead of killing them. It was a profound shift. It was a tremor to the soul that grabbed me by the feet and shook me at night like I was a rag doll.
Like any visual artist, I painted my surroundings, including the goats and chickens that roamed the neighbors’ yards. It was when I was leaning over the fence into my landlord’s pen, feeling up a goats face to get its musculature down so I could paint him, that I had an idea.
Why not partner with a farm animal sanctuary, get to know the animals as individuals, paint their portraits, tell their stories (as a writer, storytelling is so important to me) have an art show, and give some of the proceeds back to the sanctuaries?
Wouldn’t that bring my life full circle? I could be an animal journalist, giving animals a voice where they had no voice.
My first subject is a horse named Daisy at Green Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary in Silverton, Oregon. Her owner was suffering domestic abuse and when the woman escaped she took the horse with her.
They bounced from place to place looking for a home, until the situation became untenable for Daisy, and she ended up in the sanctuary. She’s the only mare now in a field of geldings and she’s loving her Diva status.
The sanctuary has tons of stories like this, the animals’ fates tied to human fate. I spent hours feeling Daisy’s body. I’ve never painted a horse before.
Recently, I launched a Kickstarter Campaign called Beauty of the Beast to get the process underway.
The process hasn’t been easy. The soul roils, the psyche trembles, fear storms and night terrors of killing animals. “If they’d kill a furry forest creature, why wouldn’t they kill me?” my 5-year-old self used to ask.
Still I persist with the painting. The healing has to start, for all of us, somewhere.
Learn more about Caroline Allen’s Kickstarter campaign here.
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