(Originally Published June 11, 2014)
It’s not everyday that you find a person with incredible talent using a paint brush. It’s even more rare when you find that talent paired with a charming and kind personality and true passion for an industry. Bonnie Mohr is one of the most well known icons in the dairy industry, and rightfully so. A painter and wife to a dairy farmer, Mohr’s work ranges from cows to motivational and inspiring pieces (for those who don’t necessarily consider bovines appropriate wall decor, which I think is absurd).
After enjoying my interview with Bonnie Mohr, check out the links below to Mohr’s Facebook and official website. Trust me, if you’re a “cow” person or a “not-so-cow” person… you won’t regret it!
- Introduce yourself!
Formally Bonnie Mohr, many know me as the “cow lady” or “cow painter,” which I think is a wonderful and flattering thing. I am the second oldest of eight kids and grew up near New Ulm on a dairy farm. I am married to a dairy farmer—John Mohr—and so I became a dairy farmer’s wife and a mom to our five children (Amanda, Katelyn, Taylor, Jacob, and Zachary). I have always been active in the dairy industry, beginning with a career early on at Holstein World and eventually fulfilling my own journey of becoming an artist. I love my life and feel blessed every day to be able to use my God given talents and skills to be an artist advocate for the dairy industry and more recently, expanding my subject matter and contact to include inspirational art.
- How are you dedicated to dairy?
My work is a reflection of who I am; I paint the sites and scenes or rural America and the face of the dairy industry and its lifestyle. It is all about the life I’ve lived and what I believe—it is the things that bring me joy and happiness. I am an advocate for this lifestyle by supporting the events and happenings of dairy farmers and the dairy industry through my artwork and personal contributions. I am appreciative that there are people who love the same things I do, as it’s the people who buy my work who give me a reason to paint. Success and happiness lie in working hard and believing in what you do. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to not only grow up on a dairy farm, but also to raise our family on one. There really is no greater place in the world to raise a family and to teach your children about responsibility, family values and working together, laying a foundation and preparing them for the life that lies ahead. Whether they end up in the dairy industry or otherwise, it’s a great way to prepare them for life with the daily life lessons that occur on a dairy farm.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your business?
Art was my favorite subject in high school; I don’t think for a second that I was born a genius artist or any extraordinary talent. I have just had a love, fascination and interest for color ever since I was a child. I went to school for dairy production and agriculture communications. Evenings and weekends, however, I continued to pursue my desire of wanting to learn to paint. To feed this hunger, I went to art shows on the weekends and slowly but surely taught myself how to paint. About 30 years ago I began showing my work around and Select Sires commissioned me to paint one of their bulls. It was then that I decided to leave my job and give painting a try; John was very supportive and encouraged me along the way. From there, it was a slow process of developing my skills, painting style, and establishing myself as an artist—I knew it was cows that I really wanted to paint. Because there were very few other artists painting cattle, there was a market for it. I really learned everything on my own—it was a series of trial and error.
Throughout the beginning stages of my career, we also bought our farm, moved out to Glencoe, and started a family. The first 15 years of my career is a blur of sorts; I was helping on the farm, up at night with babies, and at that time I had no employees, so I was also the one answering the phone and taking orders—in addition to painting. At a certain point, I realized I had grown enough and was able to start up the studio and hire some employees, eventually leading to the launch of our website and a catalog to show my work. The more I painted cows, the more my skills developed, the more true-to-life my paintings became, and I knew I was painting what I was supposed to, and that brought great satisfaction to me. I was painting who I was and what I loved.
Over the course of time, I painted all the different breeds. The highlights of my career have been painting the Ideal Holstein cow and bull for the Holstein Association, updating the Dairy Breeds of North America poster, and the Hoard’s Dairyman Foster Mother of the Human Race image. In the last ten years, I’ve broadened my subject matter and have painted various rural American scenes, and most recently inspirational artwork, which has become a very big part of my work. This is a growing area for me because it is a measure that has the potential to touch everyone in the world. I have felt a calling to branch out to try new and different things; I am thankful that my work brings joy and happiness to people.
In addition to having an art gallery on our farm, I do a few shows during the year. World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin being the biggest (this will be my 29th year!). I also have a website (www.bonniemohr.com), and my work can be found in various shops and galleries all over America, as well as internationally.
- What do you like most about your artwork/business? (the combination of art and the dairy industry, it’s peaceful, etc)
As I look back, I am surprised that the gold treasure we all seek in life was right in my own back yard. The joy and reward of being a dairy farmer and living the dairy farming life has become the staple of who I am and how I make my living. It is ironic that you grow up thinking you have to search the world over to find the treasure, when in reality, it was right there the whole time. I love the fact that I can be sitting in my chair painting and look out the window and see cows in the pasture. I love that when I have my windows open in the morning, I can hear the cows mooing and the tractor and TMR (totally mixed ration) mixer driving across the yard. I love that I can hear the sound of my children right outside of my window working and growing, laughing and playing. That is a real joy that a lot of people never get to have—that true meaning of family and life right here, right now. On the business side of things, I have always had an interest in marketing and have always been a “people person.” A big part of selling your product is believing in your product; that’s why it is so easy for me to have a passion for what I do—I believe in what I do.
- What’s your favorite painting that you’ve done?
“The Beautiful Cow.” I believe I captured both the inner and outer essence and beauty of the dairy cow. Those cows look like they are in cow heaven. They are so peaceful—the look I captured exemplifies that they are happy, well taken care of, and loving their life, too. As dairy farmers and stewards of the land, that is our job…to take care of everything we’ve been given. The look on their faces say that they are joyful and happy; they are basking in the sunshine in a lush pasture on a warm summer day—if there’s a cow heaven, that’s it right there! I also wrote a verse for this painting which summarizes my, and I believe most dairy farmers, passion for cows, and why we live this lifestyle
The other reason this piece is so special to me is because I donated this original painting to the Holstein Foundation, which ended up raising almost $20,00 for them at auction. It was my opportunity to give back for the gifts I’ve been blessed with and the wonderful life I’ve had. I think from time to time, we all need to give back, and that’s why “The Beautiful Cow” makes me especially happy and proud.
The Beautiful Cow
- If you could tell the public one thing about your involvement in the dairy industry, what would it be?
I believe I have been a positive spokesperson to both dairy farmers and non-dairy farmers through my form of artwork. I feel it is an educational, enlightening and complimentary message for this lifestyle. My work is a tribute to all of us who work hard in the dairy industry. There aren’t too many professions that require this amount of hard work and dedication. My work is a celebration to the people who live this lifestyle, and that makes me really happy.
I also think my work is who I am, through and through. Born and raised a dairy farmers daughter, I live what I know. My work is an extension of my heart and that brings me great satisfaction.
The other thing that brings me joy is knowing the happiness my art brings to others. To share the things you’ve been given in life, is really why we are here, it’s a big part of our journey. I’ve been able to use my work to share with others for contributions, donations for fundraisers and benefits. It is a wonderful way to help others…we all have something to give… this is my way of giving to help other people raise money for worthy causes, and that brings me joy and satisfaction.