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Saint Jo artist and Sivells Bend native Donna Howell-Sickles adds some details to a drawing at her gallery in Saint Jo. Sickles recently found out she is scheduled to be inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in November.

A Cooke County native is set to be inducted into Fort Worth’s National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in November.

Donna Howell-Sickles is one of four noteworthy women chosen this year for the Hall of Fame.

Nominees for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame must have made significant contributions to the American West.

“The museum’s statement is about women who have changed and bettered the west,” Sickles said during an interview at her gallery.

Sickles will be in distinguished company. Inductees include Lubbock-native and sculptor Glenna Goodacre, who created the image for the Sacagawea dollar; Modernist artist Georgia O’Keeffe and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sickles said she was nominated for the Hall of Fame a few years ago. Each year, she updated her information.

The nomination form is “massive” she said, and along with the form, she was asked to supply supporting evidence — articles about her work, for instance.

After the initial nomination, other people were asked to send e-mails to the organization explaining how Sickles’ work has influenced them.

Sickles learned she had earned her place in the Hall of Fame when Pat Riley, director for the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame called her about two months ago to give her the news.

Sickles’ gallery is on a quiet street in the small Montague County town of Saint Jo. It was once a Presbyterian church.

Inside the former church with its close-clipped lawn and multitudes of gorgeous flowers, Sickles works on her drawings. She usually has several in various stages of progress.

Known for her drawings and paintings of cowgirls, Sickles spent the first years of her life living on her family’s ranch in Sivells Bend. Her brother still operates the ranch.

“I grew up in Sivells Bend,” Sickles said sitting on a tall stool with her Australian shepherd dog, Lillie, at her feet. “I attended a little one-room school house which is still there.”

In addition to the dog, a lively orange cat, Chevy, was also nearby, taking a nap in the light from one of the windows in the gallery.

Chevy is a full-time gallery resident. He was rescued from a vehicle engine where Sickles believes his mother deposited him and possibly his littermates.

The little cat with copper-colored eyes was the sole survivor of the incident and got his name from the car in which he was discovered.

Sickles, who prefers to be known as Donna Howell-Sickles, said she never thought of herself as “that western.”

Her family moved to New Mexico when she was in the seventh grade, but held onto the family ranch.

Throughout her career, Sickles said she cherished her ties to rural North Texas. She has family members in the area. Her sister-in-law is a Sivells Bend teacher, and her mother, Pauline still lives near Gainesville, she said. Her father Houston Howell is deceased.

After she graduated, Sickles moved to Washington state living and working mainly in the Seattle area.

After about four years, she moved back to Texas where she worked on the ranch with her brother who she said gave her the jobs he didn’t want to do such as moving massive hay bails with a tractor.

“I can drive a tractor. I just don’t want to have to,” she said, laughing.

After meeting and later marrying her husband John, she lived in Frisco for a time where she and her art thrived.

Sickles’ art work is considered drawing rather than painting. She works with mixtures of charcoal, pastels and paint on paper or canvass.

She said she considers herself blessed to be able to practice her art without holding an outside job. It has always been that way, she said, although she sometimes teaches art workshops and has been an art instructor in the past.

“My career took off in the mid-1980s,” she said.

“It just happened,” she explained. “You paint for years, and you accumulate stuff. Finally, things get placed in galleries and when they sell, boy, is that a good feeling.”

She gives credit for her early success to gallery owners who gave her a chance — people such as Frank Moss of the Nimbus Gallery; Ed Morgan, of Taos, NM; and George Kneeland, director of the Kneeland Gallery in Sun Valley, Idaho.

She has also shown paintings in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Santa Fe, NM and Jackson, WY.

Sickles’ studio is all things cowgirl.

There’s a weathered sign in the front room that reads, “Cowgirls are forever,” and the place is home to various cowgirl collections including frontier-inspired gear and a little handmade cowgirl doll Sickles said she’s had since she was a little girl.

She works with her office manager Marty Bugg. Bugg said said she loves coming to work each day at the church turned studio/gallery.

Sickles said she doesn’t know what she would do without Bugg’s assistance.

At any time, Sickles might be working on several drawings.

She said she finds herself imaging painting some of the people she meets, and occasionally asks friends and acquaintances to sit for her.

She works from photos of her models — shots of their faces and full body photos.

She picked up a collection of photos in a plastic binder and pointed out a young woman in one set of pictures.

“I just thought she had an interesting face,” she said.

The woman ended up becoming the inspiration for one of her drawings.

Although Sickles begins her work with a model in mind, the drawing usually takes on a life of its own and sometimes doesn’t look much like the person she first sketched.

Sickles also has a love for red and uses a lot of it in her work. Many of her drawings feature girls with red lips, red shirts, red blankets and red horses.

“It’s a personal preference,” she said. “I think the meaning of the color red is obvious. It symbolizes the vitality of life.”

Sickles loves drawing cowgirls. She said she has been working with cowgirl imagery for over 30 years.

“The cowgirl is a good vehicle to tell stories about women,” she said. “She’s part of everyone’s’ remembered past even if it is just pretend. She’s a half-step away from reality. I can use the cowgirl to tell stories, even very old stories in mythology.

Cowgirl art is tied to mythos, especially stories based in agrarian traditions such as that of Demeter and her ill-fated daughter Persephone whose abduction by Hades to the underworld left Demeter distraught and brought on changes in the seasons.

Ideals such as fate, luck and weather also influence the stories she tells with her drawings.

Sickles said after a life spent traveling and living all over the United States, she chose to live in Saint Jo.

“It was a deliberate choice to be here,” she said. “Here, I can be involved in things that truly matter and be a beneficial part of the community.”

She and her husband John are planning to remodel a building on the Saint Jo town square.

Valley Creek Art Gallery will feature Sickles drawings as well as those of some other artists.

According to a news release from the organization, “The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honors and documents the lives of women who have distinguished themselves while exemplifying the pioneer spirit of the American West.”

The museum is located at 1720 Gendy St. in Fort Worth’s cultural district. It features interactive exhibit galleries, three theaters, a retail store and a grand rotunda which houses the Hall of Fame. The museum is open seven days a week.

For information on the museum and the Hall of Fame visit www.cowgirl.net or call (817) 336-4475 or (800) 476-FAME.

Reporter Delania Trigg may be

contacted at dtrigg@ntin.net

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