My “Tree Hugging Cowgirl” series explores the impact of fracking and other damaging events on the environment. Earlier this year, I saw that more parcels were up for oil and gas extraction near where I live and I wanted to do something about it. I did the usual letter and email sending but wanted to do something that I was good at. I saw the BLM map (at my town’s July Fourth celebration called Cherry Days) of the parcels up for lease sale at the Western Slope Conservation Center booth. I decided right then and there to go out to as many of them as I could and paint what I saw. I am familiar with the areas as I have ridden horseback through a lot of it and other areas I’ve gone into to do search and rescue. I wanted to do this Tree Hugging Cowgirl series to inform people of the places that will be affected if gas and oil production is allowed to occur and expand. I was also inspired and influenced to paint the smoke-filled West I experienced on a vacation this summer.
According to Earth Island Journal, “The first tree huggers were 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730, died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace. They literally clung to the trees, while being slaughtered by the royal foresters. But their action led to a royal decree prohibiting the cutting of trees in any Bishnoi village. And now those villages are virtual wooded oases amidst an otherwise desert landscape. Not only that, the Bishnois inspired the Chipko movement (chipko means “to cling” in Hindi) that started in the 1970s, when a group of peasant women in the Himalayan hills of northern India threw their arms around trees designated to be cut down. Within a few years, this tactic, also known as tree satyagraha, had spread across India, ultimately forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.”
I’m not that brave, but I did decide to go out to areas where there would be gas and oil production workers. They are not usually know for their delicate ways or polite manners.
I’ve been making art since I was small. When I was about 5 years old I remember being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”I said, “A cowboy and an artist”. I later learned I was a cowgirl. And I have always loved trees! They are some of my best models and I love painting them.
I went out and created sketches, plein air (French for outdoors or outside) paintings and photographed the scenes. Many of the plein air paintings are here tonight. Some were used as sketches to form the inspiration for many of my studio pieces. I also collaborated with WSCC and they helped me with advice and technical support. I am donating 50% of the profits from the sale of the paintings in the Tree Hugging Cowgirl series during the 2 exhibits to the WSCC.
I went out and painted places on BLM land, in the National Forest and looking over fences onto private lands. Some of the landscapes were beautiful. Some were not, as the gas production was already occurring there and marred the natural beauty of the area as well as affected its health. I am not sure how many people have gone out to areas already being extracted. Gas and oil production tears up Mother Earth. There are sets of pipelines bringing water in and taking gas out. I wondered who sold their water rights to the gas and oil companies? I wondered how safe are the pipelines going out? They are everywhere if you drive out Colbran Road off of Hwy 133 just outside of Paoina, CO. So are green tanks on their sterile graveled rectangles. Do they spray Round Up on those gravel pads to keep the plants from growing? There are also green gates with welded pipe fences connected to them. No rancher I know would spend that kind of money on gates and fences. Barbed wire is just fine. Who put those up and did they have permission?
I noticed a sign in this heavily extracted area put up by the Forest Service saying that shooting cattle was a crime. I wondered when that went up as I hadn’t seen it before. I used to ride horses and mules in these areas in the past 8 years. I figured all the new roads into the area was bringing in a surly sort that shot at cow calf pairs for some cruel reason.
When I was out painting by myself, with my dog and some bear spray for protection, I thought about my safety but not a lot. I can’t say anything exciting or dramatic happened while I was outside doing my plein air painting for Tree Hugging Cowgirl. I spent a lot of time looking at the landscapes.
Why did I create Tree Hugging Cowgirl? I want to have people become aware of the areas that are up for fracking. Most people worry that some abstract concept of Nature is going to be destroyed. Some people go out on hikes or back country skiing or hunting in the forest. But most people look at the images of these places on a screen or magazine page. I went out and looked for hours at a time. I want to share my experience with others. I believe that looking at a painting will raise peoples’ awareness in a positive way. I want people to feel good about helping. I am hoping people will be inspired to do good for Mother Earth after looking at these paintings. I want people to advocate for Nature and be moved to do healthful action.
I am a Tree Hugging Cowgirl. I always have been.