As Heather Maples swirls a small-tipped brush through dots of cream, chestnut and black paint, a scene familiar to the Limestone County artist comes to life.
It’s a portrait of a cow, just one of many farm-centric images preserved through her Black Cow Art Studio.
“When I’m in nature and around the animals and I get to see my family work the land, it just lights a fire,” said Maples, who lives on an Elkmont beef cattle farm with husband Ben. “It gives me the inspiration to give back and share the gift God has given me with other people.”
Maples’ art pays homage to agriculture and the rural South, fitting for a Kentucky-farm-girl-turned-Alabama-farm-wife.
The self-taught, impressionistic artist first put paint to canvas 15 years ago with a self-portrait.
“What came out didn’t exactly look like my physical appearance, but it was how I viewed myself,” said Maples, who didn’t use a mirror for the portrait. “That was instrumental in inspiring me to keep painting. I got to paint something that wasn’t necessarily there, but it was something I felt.”
Three years ago, she established Black Cow Art Studio. Maples occasionally teaches private lessons and hosts paint parties but concentrates on custom art, which is 90 percent of her work.
When creating a piece, Maples starts with a photograph of her subject, sets up shop on her dining room table with brushes and hues of paint. She gets lost smudging, blending and creating barns, horses, cows and pets.
The busy mom to Jane and Lydia spends her spare time immersed in art, but helps on the farm, too.
“I think it’s the best way to raise our girls because they get to be free and enjoy my passion and Ben’s passion,” she said. “Then they can also see how two worlds that are completely different can meet in the middle and go well together.”
Maples said though her love of agriculture in art began on her parents’ farm, it’s a trend invading pop culture. Cotton fields, barns and cows play into the rustic farmhouse decorating scheme popularized by Joanna Gaines on the hit show “Fixer Upper.”
“I think artists specifically can appreciate beauty in all different aspects,” she said. “When they see farm animals or a beautiful sunset over a field, they want to translate it into something other people can appreciate on the same level.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation appreciates Maples’ work, too. The Maples family won the Federation’s 2016 Excellence in Agriculture contest. Federation leaders learned about Maples’ work, they commissioned five paintings inspired by the award-winning Farming Feeds Alabama™ videos.
The paintings were reproduced for a set of greeting cards and are on display in the Federation home office in Montgomery. Greeting card sets can be purchased at the Federation’s annual meeting.
Over the next few years, the paintings will be used to raise money for scholarships and ag education through the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation.
Federation Public Relations Director Jeff Helms said Maples captures the beauty and bounty of farm life.
“The appreciation Heather has for farmers and agriculture comes through in her art,” Helms said. “You feel as though you could step into her paintings and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of rural Alabama. Heather’s passion for art and agriculture is revealed in each brushstroke.”
For Maples, her passion is a way of life, just like farming is for her husband.
“You see a calf with a cow and the feeling it provokes is just…it’s motherhood, and it’s nature, and it’s beautiful,” she said. “Normal, everyday scenes like that catch my eye and get me back to the canvas.”