Editor’s Note: Donna Howell-Sickles’ opening at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art is part of Telluride Arts’ First Thursday Art Walk. For further information, go to or call 970-728-8959.

When I was a baby writer in town, having just launched my career with the brand new local daily, Donna Howell-Sickles had a one-woman show at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, which I was asked to cover. The year was 1994. It is a privilege to write about the artist again after 18 years, but in a whole other context. Howell-Sickles is the poster artist for the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s 21st annual Wild West Fest, Monday, July 4 – Saturday, June 9.

Wild West Fest is all about bringing kids from inner cities, chosen from Boys & Girls Clubs of America, to town for a blast of cool mountain air to clear hearts and minds. In a week-long intensive at CAMP (Chip Allen Mentorship Program) they immerse themselves with experts in the fields of drama, dance, horsemanship, fly-fishing, outdoor adventure and music. They also get to enjoy along with the rest of us concerts (Imagine, a Beatles Tribute Band), a Heritage Festival, a BBQ, and a special movie (“The Last Ride,” the story of Hank Williams). Howell-Sickles perfectly communicates the wonder and excitement of it all in her image of a kick-ass cowgirl, boots off, big smile of a face filled with joy.

Over the years Howell-Sickles has earned her reputation – along with a huge following – based on what appear to representational images of cowgirls. Look again, this time more deeply at the work, now on the walls of the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, June 6 – June 9. (The artist’s reception is Thursday, June 7, 5 – 8 p.m.) The latest body of work is a variation on the theme of past work, incorporating mythological symbols, color and line to create captivating metaphors starring her cowgirl heroines.

Take circles for example. Circles in a Howell-Sickles are meant to be taken literally as part of the horse’s bridle. But circles throughout her canvasses also signify completeness, life without end, reincarnation. Circles are a kind of shorthand way of saying the subject matter, these female icons, is linked to the past, plays a role in the present, and suggests the future. A rein made of of 13 round beads is an allusion to the 13-week seasonal moon cycle. Any three-sided figure or the number 3, which appear time and again in the artist’s work, suggest stability, the Trinity, the three phases of the moon, good luck and relationships. Knots allude to hurdles on the path to spiritual enlightenment. Red wing birds are messengers between the physical and spiritual worlds. And red, well, that’s the color of blood, the color of life.

It all began during Howell-Sickles’ junior year at college at Texas Tech, when she acquired an old postcard, circa 1935, depicting a cowgirl seated atop a horse. The vintage missive read, “Greetings from a Real Cowgirl from the Ole Southwest.” Attracted instantly by the charm and confidence of the woman in the image, Howell-Sickles began incorporating the cowgirl figure into her artwork, as well as collecting and researching  old-time cowgirl images. Before too long, the icon and all she represents became the central theme in the contemporary Western settings of Howell-Sickles’ mixed-media artwork.

Howell-Sickles’ canvasses, comprised charcoal, pastels and acrylics, tell stories that celebrate life and womankind as embodied in the personae of rugged, high-spirited woman of the West. A mere frame cannot contain the energy.

For a preview of the show, watch Clint Viebrock’s video:

And the following is a schedule of Wild West Fest events:

Monday, June 4. 
Youth arrive from Atlanta, Denver, Farmington, Fort Worth, Nucla and phoenix

Tuesday, June 5, 
5-8 p.m.: Wild West Fest Kick-Off Celebration and BBW in Town Park, open to public, $6 donation for food

Wednesday, June 6,
10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Chip Allen Mentorship Programs

Thursday, June 7
,10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Chip Allen Mentorship Programs
5-8 p.m.: Schmid Ranch Western Cookout for participants, supporters and sponsors
5-8 p.m.: Donna Howell-Sickles Artist Reception, Telluride Gallery of Fine Art

Friday, June 8
9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.: Circle K Ranch Roundup for youth
8 p.m.: Wild West Fest Benefit concert featuring Imagine, a Beatles Tribute Band and CAMP performances, tickets $25 plus $1 ticketing fee,

Saturday, June 9, 
10 a.m.-12 p.m., Art Workshop with Donna Howell-Sickles at the Ah Haa School for the Arts, 
11 a.m.- 4 p.m.: 4th annual Heritage Fest on Colorado Ave
4 & 7 p.m.: “The Last Ride” screening, $10, a feature length film depicting the last days of Hank Williams, Sheridan Opera House

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