The Art of Bonnie Shields
by Lynn R. Miller
Bonnie Shields is a living legend in western art circles. And Bonnie is a legendary human being to any and everyone she has touched. She is perhaps most famous for her humorous portraits of mules and her beloved LeRoy in particular but anyone who knows her knows of her phenomenal depth and range. It is her seasonal paintings of spring plowing which grace the cover of this issue. She illustrated an entire year with a different image depicting each month, a series which is powerful in its design and anecdotal energy.
If we are fortunate, each of us might call as friend a creative individual who we know will live long after his or her days. Bonnie is one of my such friends. I know she is bigger than life, I feel it when I’m around her. But no less important I also feel her humanity, gentleness, great good humor and lust for all that makes a good day, from the softest touch to the strongest odors. She is a delicious human creature, a delight. Very ordinary and supremely superlative all at the same time.
We reprint some of her autobiographical comments with her permission:
I grew up in Southern Indiana, just west of Lousiville, Kentucky. Lots of Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, but not many mules and certainly no horse of my own. My parents were photographers and we lived right in the town of Corydon, but I was your typical horse crazy little girl. To endure this sorry state, I drew horses constantly and dreamed my dreams.
My first real horse came when I was 14, an unbroke filly of mostly Morgan breeding. This mare taught me a lot and she died of old age still in my possession. In my early twenties, I moved to middle Tennessee and that’s where me and the mule met formally. They were part of the woof and weave of the culture of the South and as an artist they fascinated me. Getting to know the mule (and mule people) better started a love story that continues to this day. Some probably think it’s gotten clear outta hand, but my mules and I have been plumb happy for many years now, so get used to it!
My husband, Terry Steiner, and I have four great mules on our twenty acres of North Idaho, plus a dear donkey and his old horse. We love riding and packing into the high country of the West with our mules.