Artist Sandra Stevens wasn’t a typical child of the 50s. Growing up on her family’s 540-acre ranch near Houston, she rebuffed baby dolls and tea parties to play with duck decoys and cow skulls. She had a pony and occasionally rode the family’s cows. “I was an antisocial, weird, little kid who liked to draw pictures,” she recalled. Her parents encouraged her talent and arranged for professional art lessons.
Although she always painted as a hobby, Sandra chose a career as a fine-art photographer. In 2007, she picked up her paint brush on a fulltime basis. Animals— and cows, in particular—inspire most of her oil paintings.
Artist Sandra Stevens with two of her cow paintings at the Holland St. Gallery in Bellville, Texas. Photo By Pat Pape.
“From childhood on, my comfort, reassurance, love and joy came from and went to animals,” she said. “I'm not very comfortable in social situations, but animals fascinate and attract me. And for some reason, they seem to be attracted to me. My husband Robert says I have a natural compassion and empathy for them. When I make an animal feel healthy, safe and happy, I feel the same thing inside myself.”
Sandra paints at her home in Sugarland, Texas, and at her small ranch near Columbus, Texas, where she raises Longhorn cattle. She also travels with a camera and has taken thousands of bovine photos. Many times she has stopped her car on a country road to snap an appealing heifer whose portrait may eventually hang above a fireplace.
Sandra paints at her home studio in Sugarland, Texas and at her Longhorn ranch in Columbus, Texas. Photo By Pat Pape.
Some of her work is realistic, and some is fantasy, such as the white-faced cow posing next to a mirror, red dress and red high heels. Its title is “Betty Lou Got a New Pair of Shoes,” the same name as the 1958 hit by singer Bobby Freeman. “I like a realistic animal with an unrealistic background,” she said of the painting.
Sandra’s canvas cows have inspired a following among ranchers and city-living country lovers. Her work has been selected for juried shows and used as the poster art for other events. Dr. Temple Grandin, the well-known expert on autism and an animal advocate, owns one of her paintings. And even though Sandra paints other rural subjects, cows remain her passion. “Texas Longhorns are real live art on the hoof,” she said. “I’m fascinated with bringing them to life on canvas.”
There have been many Longhorns in Sandra’s life, but her all-time favorite is Cinco, a 17-year-old steer who enjoys a leisurely life on her ranch and has frequently been the subject of her art. “His heart is so totally pure and kind,” she said. “It was something I felt the first time I saw him—more than being impressed with his horns and his beautiful coat. I literally laid my face against him and felt the kindness in his soul and knew I could trust him. In no time at all, I'd climbed up on his back, and we've been more or less inseparable since then.”
Cinco is Sandra’s favorite Longhorn, model and riding cow. Photo By Pat Pape.
Yes. Sandra has given up the duck decoys, but she is still riding cows, as evidenced by her recent photo with Cinco.
Sandra’s work is shown at Marta Stafford Fine Arts in Marble Falls, Texas; Holland St. Gallery in Bellville, Texas; and Ranch Antiques in Brenham, Texas. Her most recent paintings are featured on her website at www.sandrastevensart.com.
Pat Pape is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She lives north of Dallas on five acres, dubbed Pigs Fly Ranch, along with her husband, cats, dogs and pygmy goats.