May Artist of the Month: Bonnie Shields May

Bonnie Shields

My art career started with a black and a green crayon—on my grandma’s kitchen wall.  Fortunately for me, I was only 4 and much too young to execute, so when granny didn’t kill me, I took it to heart that I MUST be an artist!  There are those who argue it was the high point of my career, but I just don’t take them serious.

Anyway, I was also always horse—crazy and cowboy crazy, so my artistic adventures tended to wander into those fields quite naturally.  Unfortunately, my parents lived in Corydon, Indiana instead of Cody, Wyoming so my ideas of the West were mostly influenced by the Saturday movies.  This set my imagination free, so to speak. Reality and Fantasy. Never could get them straight.

Actually, some of my earliest and most successful artistic endeavors came from goofy characterizations of family and friends.  It seems no matter how hard I tried to be a “serious” artist; the funny stuff kept popping up. But where did the mule come from?

Talk about a “natural” teaming!  The mule and I met in the early 60’s in middle Tennessee at the annual mule-pulling contest at the Robertson County Fair in Springfield.  We’ve neither one been the same since.

While living in Tennessee, my husband and I got in the Charolais cattle business and raised a few Quarter Horses, but the mules were always close and the more I was around them and their people, the more I like them both.  And, as an artist, it was obvious they were NOT long-eared horses. They had their own physiology, attitude and character. They were absolutely the “working class”.

Years passed and I re-married, a fella from Bishop, CA whom I had met when I first went to that event, Bishop Mule Days, in the late 70’s.  When my husband sold his business in town, we started looking for a new “home” where we could have our horses and dogs. He had a ski-bum brother-in-law who was laid-up in a hospital in Sun Valley, Idaho that summer and we went to see him.  He asked if we knew about a place called Sandpoint. We said NO, and he put the sales pitch on us to the point we returned to Idaho in September and hit that darn bridge and said, “This is IT!” And, it was.

We moved up here in April of ’80 and St Helens promptly went off in celebration!  But we kept hearing about the grand draft horse show they had there in October and I signed up for a commercial booth.  Some of our first and bestest friends in Sandpoint were Alex and Kayo Fraser with their Belgians and it began—with a kinda side trip to the hospital with a broken neck from a mule wreck.  I worked that first show (for me) in a serious neck brace and medications, but my enthusiasm and appreciation of the event went undaunted, especially when Don Thomas hooked 8 mules up and roared into the ring, with a big grin on his face.  I have never missed a show since and for 9 years I served as the person who booked the commercial booths somewhere in there.

From the start, I volunteered my services for the logo and any other official art work for the souvenirs.  I’m still doing it.

I’ve never “worked” my mules but have always had several.  Current hubby and I learned to “pack” and we’ve spent many years exploring the high country and the deserts of the west from their backs.  Time has caught up with both the mules and us and we can no longer do that, but I do still have one riding mule, “Iris” and she is my dear friend.  I still “do” Bishop Mule Days and go back to Tennessee every three years to do Columbia Mule Day, the granddaddy of them all. The mules are so much better bred and handled since I first encountered them, but they are still mules and still my heroes and I celebrate their improved status and more enlightened handling

PLEASE STOP BY THE UNDERGROUNDS VENDOR AREA AND GRAB ONE OF THE FAMOUS DRAWINGS OF THE TENNESEE MULE ARTIST BONNIE SHIELDS AND HAVE HER SIGN YOUR DRAWING.  THE SHOW WILL BE JULY 5TH THRU 7TH AT THE KOOTENAI COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS IN BEAUTIFUL COEUR D’ALENE, ID.  THE IDAHO STATE DRAFT HORSE AND MULE INTERNATIONAL SHOW VISIT US ON OUR WEB SITE www.idahodrafthorseshow.com purchase your tickets early and save money.  Available camping on the grounds and if you need a motel go to Comfort Inn & Suites and Mainstay Suites they are our hotel sponsor https://www.choicehotels.com/reservations/groups/ze48j3?source=EMCHGGI&checkInDate=2019-07-04&checkOutDate=2019-07-08&ratePlanCode=BTRIQN