story by Barb Pennypacker
What do Holsteins, Guernseys, Ayrshires and Jerseys have in common? They are dairy cows living on Bear Meadows Farm in Boalsburg, PA. The grass-fed dairy farm is owned by Jeff and Claudia Biddle and is a certified, Animal Welfare Farm. All the cows have names and spend their days grazing in lush pastures of their own choosing.
In 2011, I exhibited my paintings with the Farmland Preservation Artists at the PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) conference. While standing by my painting of Lew Biddle’s barn kitties, I heard a voice behind me say ‘those are my brother’s cats’. Jeff Biddle, the man behind the voice, then commissioned me to do a painting of his farm. Thus began my adventures with dairy cows.
Jeff told me that he wanted a painting his grandson could look at and say ‘that’s grandpa’s farm’. Further questions revealed that ‘maybe it should have some cows and maybe some cats’. From there on I was on my own! Jeff introduced me to his very large and slightly intimidating cows, including Tess, the Ayrshire with horns! Before long, I became comfortable with these gentle giants. I decided to paint the view from the pasture that overlooks the milking parlor and barn. I further decided to paint the cows walking down the hill to the barn at sunset. I undertook this ambitious painting during a very cold and snow covered February.
I stood on the cow path above the scene I was going to paint and waited for the homeward bound cows. I waited and waited as the sun slipped lower and lower in the sky and my feet got colder and colder. Finally, the cows began to mosey down the path. I began taking photos while remaining rooted in the same spot to preserve perspective. Things were going well until the aforementioned Tess, the very large Ayrshire with horns, stopped, blocking the entrance to the path. Cows collected behind her and still she held fast, gazing down at the barn. My feet were beyond cold when finally Tess walked through the gate, pivoted and faced me with lowered head and those big horns! I thought my end was at hand! We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity, then she broke eye contact, turned and walked down the path. Tess made it clear that I was not welcome. Fortunately, the rest of the cows accepted me and became my friends.
I decided to try to reproduce each cow’s markings, a rather daunting task, as I planned to have lot of cows in my painting. When I presented the finished painting to Jeff and Claudia they named each animal in the painting. My effort to be true to the markings on each cow was a success! They immediately commissioned me to do a painting of their farm in each season. I have been happily painting Bear Meadows Farm and its cows and cats for the last 5 years!