Local artist Suzi Bradley Sheward’s western style, sense of humor and vibrant use of color has created a unique niche for her artwork. Not only is she a three-time Sisters Rodeo poster artist, Sheward’s creative inspiration is based largely in the Central Oregon landscape and lifestyle.
Immediately drawn to the area after a trip up from California to attend the Small Farmer’s Journal Horsedrawn Auction & Swap Meet in 1997, she thought, “This is the place,” and promptly rented a barn to live in. The adventurous and sometimes unconventional spirit of Sheward brought an added verve to the community; some of her life experiences including professional vocalist, sailboat and motorcycle racer, Berkeley boutique owner, airplane pilot and most important of all, mother.
Her artistic inclinations, and love of horses, began at and early age. From first sitting on a horse at two years old and drawing sketches on table napkins at five, to taking art classes in high school, attending art college at Long Beach State, studying commercial art in New Jersey and continuing to own and ride horses, Sheward’s constants in life have been art and horses (not necessarily in that order).
“I studied with Sam Savitt, the famous horse artist, and took other courses throughout the years whenever I could,” she said. Her artistic interests ranged from welding and sculpture to painting (especially western subject matter) and recently leather work.
“I love leather, I love the smell of leather,” Sheward said. She learned the trade from a former Hollywood saddle artisan and over the last three years has been incorporating leather into some of her new artistic projects: lamps, mirrors and furniture, under her business name Blue Winged Olive.
She uses carved and tooled leather, Pendleton fabrics, conchos and found items in her three-dimensional work. Blue Winged Olive has been in business for three years, the name coming from her son’s love of fly fishing and the unique Mayfly hatches of the Blue-Winged Olive on the Metolius River.
Her hand-made creations are found at Hamley and Co. in Pendleton and the Cowgirls and Indians store in Sisters. She often travels to western trade and art shows throughout the year and enjoys the inspiration travel brings.
“I am kind of a big artist sponge,” she explained. “It’s difficult to make a living as an artist, it’s hard, but you have to really love it. I suffer if I can’t create something, I think most artists are the same.”
Sheward’s creative process is not linear, she often lets the work unfold on its own accord, “I’ll have an idea and then start building something and maybe the idea changes, so what I am building moves off in a different direction,” she said. “I never do anything exactly as what I start out to do unless it is a commission.” Her commissioned work has gained some international attention, completing works for clients in Italy and Mexico as well as on the East Coast.
Her painting Idaho Cowboy, our cover image this month, was the result of a bit of online luck. “I saw this very powerful picture and I thought, ‘I have to paint that,’” Sheward said. When the painting was finished the original site she found the photo on was gone. “All I had was a painting……and vaguely remembered he was in northern Idaho.”
Determined to share her work with the cowboy, she contacted the Coeur D’Alene Press in Northern Idaho to try and locate the mystery man. “I sent them the photo and told them I was looking for the cowboy, and they printed the story on the first page,” Sheward laughed. Soon she connected with him. “He loved the painting, he had never been more flattered and was an insistent celebrity.”
Sheward works in her Tumalo studio, and has only painted a few portraits, the majority of her artwork revolves around animals and western themes, and when inspired, she will complete a painting in days.
“I find pretty good inspiration here,” she said. “I don’t know a better place that I could be.”
When Sheward isn’t at the easel or at work on one of her three-dimensional creations, she can be found dancing at the Tumalo Feed Company, stepping into a stream as part of her new fly fishing hobby or hiking in the high desert. She is also a member of the Sisters’ Saddle Bags, a group of local women horse-back riders.
Her work has appeared in Cowboys and Indians magazine, and she will soon appear in the Western Arts And Architecture online gallery. She was the Sisters Rodeo poster artist for 2003, 2004 and 2005.