Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Marc Piscotty
Describe your studio. My studio is on the second floor [of the house] over our garage. Both my studio and home are in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 8,800 feet, which allows for wonderful views of the mountains and the snow-capped Continental Divide. The studio is oriented for north light, which comes through the dormer windows. The floors are resawn oak planks, and the vaulted ceiling has exposed wood beams. My husband, Kerry, rescued the cabinetry and granite tops from a remodeling job.
What are the surroundings like? We are surrounded by a 660-acre park with walking access only. There are mule deer, elk, bears, foxes, mountain lions, squirrels, chipmunks, hawks, crows, ravens, and more hummingbirds than you can count. Typically we have snow on the ground from October through April. But we still manage to have an organic garden. It is a blessing just to be here.
Do your surroundings influence your work? I started out painting still lifes and people. But with all of the beautiful animals in my life, I found that I really wanted to capture their individuality on canvas. One of my first animal paintings was of two white male rabbits from the same litter that we rescued. At first I thought, “How will I ever be able to tell them apart?” After about a week, I thought, “How could I have ever confused them?” It is the individuality of each animal that I wish to capture in my paintings—not just a golden retriever or a rabbit but an individual golden or rabbit. And, of course, the wild animals are a constant source for new works as well.
What do you keep in your studio? The obvious things—paints, canvases, other painting supplies, and sketchbooks. I also have an area set up for just framing. There are a multitude of books in the studio. I have high hopes of getting through them eventually. And there’s a comfy place to read in front of a fireplace. One alcove in particular is dedicated to heart-shaped rocks that I have found or people have given to me. A Native American and very spiritual friend of mine suggested that I collect them when I was really depressed after one of the bunnies died. Now I use them regularly as part of a ceremony when we lose a bunny. I also have a well-used set of medicine cards that are based on ancient Native American teachings. And I keep prayer beads and a drum in the studio. And there’s an area for the bunnies and their “necessities.”
How did you get involved in rabbit rescue? My mother gave me a rabbit when I was a child, and he quickly became my best friend and confidant. As an adult, my husband saw how much time I was spending trying to make friends with the wild rabbits, and he decided we needed one. I now work with the Colorado House Rabbit Society, where I am an educator. I contact each person who adopts from us and help with any behavior issues. I also take bunnies to the local television stations three or four times a year to do interviews and provide additional information to the public. In Evergreen, I am in charge of all things rabbit and their adoptions from the Evergreen Animal Protective League. We currently have 10 “special needs” rabbits of our own. We have a bunny who is deaf, and another one who has loose shoulder joints and has to be on carpet or else its legs go out like a seal. I keep the ones that aren’t adoptable.
Are all the rabbits in your studio while you paint? I have a rotating cast of characters depending on what I will be doing that day. If I am painting, then Maui runs around the studio and Tessa sleeps under my easel. If I am framing, that allows for more distraction, and Angelina and Remington will keep me company. Remington—named for the artist, not the weapons manufacturer—will just chill out, but Angelina is in charge of mayhem. She excels at her task. I will be introducing Charlie, Lola, Ginger, and Linus into my studio soon. Not to be forgotten are Summit and Meadow, our two Bernese mountain dogs. They are great companions and bunny sitters.
What is your favorite subject matter? I adore sketching nudes and, of course, painting animals. People are such a challenge to catch naturally with just enough information. I have two avenues for painting animals. One is just painting what moves me. Those are usually animals with wonderful light and shadow areas, and these paintings are for my gallery. The other is commission work. It is such a joy to meet people who so adore their companion animals. Creating a painting that captures that special something that the owner sees is a wonderful experience.
If your studio was on fire, what one thing would you save? Anything breathing.
Featured in March 2012.