We caught up with Lori in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she was sorting through the contents of an architectural antique store she had inherited from her recently passed great-aunt. Although there was sadness to the occasion, in a way it was the perfect time and place to catch Lori in a reflective mood, because “the roots of my art are in this place.”
Lori grew up in Tucson, the daughter of a handyman and a kindergarten schoolteacher, but from the age of five she spent her summers with her great-aunt in Lincoln. There, to keep her occupied, she was given the job of touching up the antiques that needed to be repainted. For diversion, Lori would sometimes let her imagination take over and paint designs and scenes on old milk cans and coal scuttles. One day a customer purchased one and, according to Lori, “That gave me my start in the art world.
Over the years that followed she painted the surfaces of anything and everything: doors and door knobs, bird baths, floor safes, the inside of pocket watch faces, and, when there was nothing else around, river rocks. So encouraged was she by the commercial side of art that when she graduated from high school she decided to make a go of it as a freelance artist, which led to jobs designing newspaper ads for Handy Andy, a forerunner to Home Depot; and creating silk screens for a T-shirt and Tile company. For a while she apprenticed with a commercial jeweler, working in gold, silver and platinum. She has illustrated books, produced her own line of greeting cards, and exhibits fine art paintings in galleries. Full-time, part-time, she was willing to do “anything I could to make a buck in the art world.”
Side-by-side with her commitment to Art was her love of horses. “Since I was yea-high to the curbside, I collected Breyer Horses. There was a donkey that was boarded down the street from us, and the highlight of my day was feeding him a carrot. The first horse I actually rode was Mr. Ed, a palomino out of racing stock retired to a farm next to my aunt in Lincoln.”
Her passion for art and horses came together when she saw a Call for Designs in a magazine from The Trail of Painted Ponies in 2001. Immediately she knew what she wanted to paint. “My girlfriend married a character who had a ranching business. The first time I visited them I got there at night, and the next morning we were going to go for a ride and she handed me a halter and told me there was a sorrel out among the cattle, I should go get him. The house was surrounded by a picket fence and beyond that, as far as you could see, all you could see were Herefords. I walked around for a while, moving among the cows, calves and bulls, but I couldn’t find the horse. Finally I gave up, and after my friend had a good laugh, she came out with bucket of grain, shook it, and this head popped up with the ears standing straight. Apparently he would hide among the cattle when he thought he was going to be ridden, but when it came to grain, he couldn’t resist.”
Lori’s extraordinary life-size Painted Pony - “CowPony” – was a hit, not just for the clever design – a sorrel hiding among a herd of Herefords – but for the way she gave every animal a distinct expression, and personality. When it was offered at auction, it sold to the Booth Museum of Western Art in Cartersville, Georgia for $50,000, the highest price of any Painted Pony, raising big money for a group of charities.
Lori followed up her success with another sensational Painted Pony – “Year of the Horse” – that also brought top dollar at our second End of the Trail auction.
Painting ponies that sell for tens of thousands of dollars is a far cry from painting a milk can. Hearing Lori talk, one gets the feeling that the world and everything in it is this gal’s canvas.
Painted Ponies by Lori Musil
Cerrillos, New Mexico… which is not much more than a ghost town a half-hour southeast of Santa Fe.
Biggest Artistic Influence:
My mom, who, to keep me out of trouble, would sit me down in a chair and put a piece of paper in front of me and tell me to sit still and draw. Plus, artists like James Bama, an excellent artist of the West, and Bev Doolittle, who also loves to hide things in pictures too.
Jewel tones: ruby, emerald, sapphire, amber.
Favorite Words of Advice:
Laughter is the best medicine. Pick your battles.
Will Rogers. He was the consummate humorist. He had a way of making everyone laugh at themselves, and boy that man could throw a rope.