Donna Howell-Sickles

(1949 - present)


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Donna Howell-Sickles

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In 1972, Donna Howell-Sickles received a postcard that would change her life. On the front of the postcard was a cowgirl, with bright red smiling lips, waving at the viewer. Howell- Sickles became fascinated by the smiling woman and, by 1979, the cowgirl had become the central theme of her art.

Initially Howell-sickles viewed the image of the cowgirl as a fictional character from America’s old west, because of this her early pictures feature faceless women. By 1980 she had spent a considerable amount of time researching and meeting real cowgirls, causing her to eliminate the anonymous cowgirl, replacing her with defined individuals. Around this same time, Howell-Sickles began to consider the notion of the American west and what it stood for in its early years. She described it as “the quest for self, for meaning, for happiness, and camaraderie.”

1984 brought about another change in Howell-Sickles’ work as she began to study and incorporate Greek, Egyptian, and Native American mythology into her work. From these traditions as well as other religions she began to include elements in groups of three, as the number three represents everything from the trinity to the three phases of the moon, and alludes to the notion of the goddess, as well it is the number of completion; representing beginning, middle, and end. Aside from the appearance of groups of three in her paintings, Howell-Sickles consistently incorporates other themes and symbols in her work. The color red is always present in her work as it symbolizes life and energy to the artist. Animals often stand for an obstacle overcome and inner strength.

Howell-Sickles describes the cowgirl as, “an accomplished and gutsy rider balanced on potential danger. On another level, she’s every woman constantly readjusting the balance of her own circumstances. As an archetype, she is a blend of past memories, present joys and future dreams.” She embodies self-reliance and independence, she is carefree, and confident and meets any difficulties with optimism and laughter. Through these colorful, smiling women, Howell-Sickles has created heroines out of common women.

Howell-Sickles creates large scale, mixed-media canvases. Her primary materials consist of charcoal, oil and pastels, and she commonly leaves her under-drawing visible. Because of her talent and dedication to portraying strong and jubilant women, Howell-Sickles was the featured artist of the 1996 exhibition, American Women Artists: A New Legacy, displayed at The National Museum of Wildlife Art.