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Posts Tagged ‘Katherine Dunn’


The Apifera Farm greeting committee includes a variety of hens and a rooster or two. Gesture drawing by Janet Herring-Sherman

Autumn’s eve was approaching the weekend I tried my hand at art. I attended a workshop with a barnyard as studio and farm animals as models. The subjects, rescued donkeys, goats, sheep and a pot-belly pig, plus chickens, ducks and a horse named Boone, were quite willing subjects. Well, all but Rosie, the somewhat grouchy little pig.

I figured since animals were at the heart of the exercise, I might stand a chance at drawing something that looked at least a little life-like. Several of the six women who attended the workshop are quite gifted and well-established artists.  A few, like me, are “nouveau art.”

Our instructor and host, artist and author Katherine Dunn, insisted artistic talent wasn’t a requirement to attend. All we needed, she’d said on registration, was curiosity and a soft spot for animals. So there we were on a drippy, chilly Oregon morning gathered in a weathered barn at Katherine’s  Apifera Farm in Yamhill, an hour south of Portland. The workshop, “Gestural Drawings to Capture the Essence,”  began with instructions to sit silently and commune with the critters.

Being in Apifera’s old hay barn, as regal as an old growth redwood, seemed déjà vu. I felt much as I had the time I walked into the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Each of these places has a well-preserved  awe, a particular quiet and a distinct smell of must and earth – from hay and manure traces in the barn and from incense and burning candles in the church. That old barn felt a lot like a place of worship. I mean that as praise not blasphemy: The times I’ve felt nearest to God have been in the company of animals.

Inside that barn, with three pair of donkey eyes watching, our group seemed to breathe a collective sigh – as if shedding the hustle-bustle world. It proved impossible to worry about jobs, school,  bills or families while under donkey scrutiny.

My very-novice gesture drawing of a member of the trio of rescued mini-donkeys now enjoying life at Apifera. By Janet Herring-Sherman

Katherine describes Apifera as a place where animals and art collide. I see it more as comfortable collusion than collision. I’m convinced, for instance, that, the Pygmy goat, Old Man Guinnias, and the piebald donkey, Matilda, conspired as to when one would stand and pose, and the other sidle up and nibble at our tablets.

The Apifera herd members really were most accommodating as we attempted to capture them in gesture drawings: These are quick, fluid drawings, often completed in short spurts, that capture the essence of a movement, a line, a shape or a feeling.

When I was young and yearning for a horse of my own, I drew hundreds of horses to keep me company. I learned to draw them pretty well. But getting the essence of these donkeys onto paper eluded me much of the day. As my sketchbook filled with my attempts, I reminded myself that my only “formal” art training was an elementary drawing class I took with my son when he was young.

In her art and writing, Katherine pays great homage to donkey ears. Now I know why. They are, well, captivating in a warm, fuzzy way. The donkeys have a secret language of ear play. I found it hard to turn away.

The real Matilda at rest in the Apifera barn, donkey ears and all. Photo by Katherine Dunn.

I’m especially fond of the splayed-ear look. When donkeys are at rest or feeling content and safe, their ears relax and fall sideways. Catawampus my dad would have called it. My attempt at drawing ears-at-rest ended with what looked like a donkey wearing a floppy hat. It was so out of whack, it made me smile. During show-and-tell, the others chuckled, too. It was all in good fun.

Gesture drawing of Matilda, Apifera's rescued donkey. By Janet Herring-Sherman

Matilda is the two-toned donkey Katherine most recently rescued from a life of neglect. I was struck by the strength of Matilda’s cheeks and jawbones. Since she’s about as tall as my torso, I could reach out and feel the curves, angles and muscles in a way I haven’t with taller horses. I tried to show that solid, rugged part of her donkey physique in profile.

Everyone at the workshop was taken with Matilda’s eyes and ears; as we were with those of the smaller mini donkeys, Pino, Paco, Lucia. Each in the trio was diminutive and demure. It’s easy to see why these barnyard muses so frequently appear in Katherine’s paintings. You might say that Pino has hee-hawed his way to a place beyond the farm: He’s evolved into a puppet, created by Katherine, that stars in her clever Apifera videos.  You can see Pino at http://www.apiferafarm.blogspot.com/.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t yet hugged a donkey or scratched a pair of donkey ears, I suggest adding “dancing with donkeys” to your bucket list. Apifera proved a place of respite. The donkeys and company made it so.

To see a video of Apifera animals, the workshop and some of the illustrations that resulted, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pdyBbR1ePg&feature=youtu.be.

My attempt at catching a goat on the move during a gesture drawing workshop at Apifera Farm in Yamhill, Oregon. By Janet Herring-Sherman

 Special Note: I just learned that two of the senior-citizen rescued goats at Apifera, Honey Boy and Granny, died last week. Katherine buried the old gent and the old gal in a special place, the pumpkin patch, on her farm. May they rest in peace as they lived at Apifera.

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Fresh and fragrant bundles of lavender harvested at Apifera Farm. Photo by Katherine Dunn.

It doesn’t get much better than riding horseback through fields of lavender.  That’s the delightful way I spent some time on a recent morning when I trailered my horse, Callie, to Apifera Farm a few valleys east of our own.

Donkeys may be telepathic. It doesn't seem to matter whether a thought is spoken or kept silent, donkeys seem to know what's on your mind. You can tell by the manner in which they twitch their ears--delicate ears that mimic the pointed tops of pickets in a fenceline. Photo by Katherine Dunn.

Apifera Farm is a magical place where “art and animals collide,” according to the description on the farm’s website. It’s the kind of place that takes caring for critters and crops seriously while fostering a sense of humor and lightheartedness about life in general. On the lane up to the cozy homestead, there’s an indicator of what’s ahead. A rough-edged, hand-painted wooden sign reads, “Watch for cats falling from trees.”

Mind you, I’ve seen no cascading cats on my visits to Apifera, but I’ve seen many other things that engage my heart, including the art of farm owner Katherine Dunn, which she describes as a combination of melancholy and hope.

Photos and poster by Apifera artist, Katherine Dunn, provide a hint of what's in store at the farm's annual fund-raising event.

My first visit to Apifera was during a small fundraiser for neglected donkeys. Billed as Pino Pie Day, Katherine and her husband, Martyn Dunn, have made this an annual summer affair with a country picnic feel. Basically, you share in a feast of delectable pies baked on-site the day prior by Katherine and a group of devoted pals.

In exchange for a few slices of pie, it’s hoped visitors will leave behind a donation to help fund the Dunns’ efforts to care for senior and/or physically challenged animals that come to Apifera for sanctuary. While the farm raises Katahdin sheep, it adopts old and crippled goats. Just this month, the Dunns brought home a senior goose and donkey plus a pot-bellied pig. Rosie, the pig, came from an 80-year-old woman a six-hour drive from Apifera.

Donkey-inspired aprons are treasured by cooks young and old at Apifera Farms' Pino Pie Day. Photos by Katherine Dunn.

Pie Day guests sit and savor pie slices between clotheslines hung with an apron array. The aprons, some handmade by Katherine and others from far-away spots on the map, are sold to benefit animal charities. Blowing slightly in the June breeze, the eclectic apron collection creates an artful back drop as well as an effective “for sale” display.

Fragrant outposts with armfuls of farm-grown lavender to purchase abound, too. Still, the donkeys are the main attraction, especially the event’s namesake, Pino. I found especially endearing the donkeys’ party dress — daisy-chain necklaces and artful messages carefully painted on their small hooves: “Hug Me,” and  “Love Me.”

Endearing messages painted on donkey hooves created a fashion statement at Apifera Farm's 2011 Pino Pie Day fund-raising event. Photo by Janet Herring-Sherman

Katherine claims there’s something healing about the combination of fresh pie, forest-scented air and hugs from donkeys with no hidden agendas. I agree: It’s impossible to look at a pair of donkey ears and not smile all the way to your heart. When you touch those soft, fuzzy ears, troubles disband and disappear for awhile.

Boone and Callie (right) tacked up and ready to tour the lavender fields at Apifera Farm in Yamhill, Oregon. Photo by Janet Herring-Sherman

Pino and his slender-eared partners, as well as chickens and livestock, wander through Katherine’s colorful contemporary folk art. Her horse, Boone, is another that shows up in Apifera art and blog posts. He’s a paprika-colored fellow that matched nicely alongside my red dun Callie.

As we rode the field’s perimeter and wove through the rows of lavender plants, Katherine explained that soon, hungry honey bees will gather on the purple-flowered stalks. That means harvest time for the lavender has arrived. Probably best we don’t wade into the lavender on horseback when bees are about: Katherine says the bees don’t mind, but I’m thinking the horses might!

You can see Katherine’s art at http://www.katherinedunn.com; and meet Apifera residents at http://apiferafarm.blogspot.com.

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Matilda, a rescued brood jenny, was bred every year of her life yet never fed anything but straw. Malnourishment during pregnancy is one of the reasons Matilda’s back has become so swayed. God bless Apifera Farm for bringing her home. Photo source: http://www.apiferafarm.blogspot.com/

DONKEYS. Katherine Dunn, an acquaintance of a good friend and farmer, has an awesome website and blog where she shares wonderful pieces and photos of her Oregon farm, Apifera, and life there. Katherine, an accomplished artist who is devoted to animal rescue, describes it as the place where art and animals collide.

She happily admits being enraptured with donkeys, most especially their oh-so-telling ears. She was reaching out to help find homes for nine recently-rescued donkeys (Their owner was going to shoot them, because they were in such sad shape he knew they’d bring him nothing at auction.) when I first learned about her talent, her farm and her missions. You, too, can learn more about everything Apifera at http://www.apiferafarm.blogspot.com/.

If you’re searching for a worthy animal-related cause to support, consider helping the donkeys and other critters at Apifera.

If you have an interest in providing a home for one of Matilda’s herd mates, please visit the website for Lavender Dream Farms in Washington where they are now residing and awaiting forever homes: http://www.lavenderdreamsfarm.net/

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