They once pockmarked the lush farmland in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, then disappeared — largely, that is — once suburban sprawl extended to places like O’Hara Township.
One beef cattle farm remains in O’Hara, though, and its bovine residents are the subjects of portraits by Paula Garrick Klein, who lives near the farm.
She said the decision to paint cows came naturally.
“I painted human portraits, as well — I’ve been doing that since college,” Klein told the Chronicle. “Painting someone’s portrait goes beyond the physical likeness … you’re trying to capture something about their interior lives, their internal being.”
“And I do the same thing with the cows,” she laughed.
Klein, who is Jewish, is sharing 36 of her cow-themed works — paintings, etchings and monotype prints — at Cooper-Siegel Library, 403 Fox Chapel Road, Fox Chapel, through February.
Klein’s works transcend decorative crafting with their generic images of cows and ducks, instead calling to mind painters from the international canon. There’s a good reason for that.
Klein is no amateur — a painter since nursery school and a full-time artist since the 1990s, she has exhibited paintings and monotype prints in numerous galleries in the Pittsburgh region, as well as in statewide and national juried exhibitions. Most recently, Klein — who grew up in Pittsburgh in the Highland Park neighborhood, with no cows — was invited to exhibit her cow portraits in a solo show at the Erie Art Museum.
Klein is a member of several artist groups, including Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Print Group, and Group A. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the highly respected Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island.
“This area was all farms at some point,” Klein said, from her O’Hara home, which sits on formerly rural land near Dorseyville Road. “I think I started painting the cows in 2008, 2009. That’s when the grass grew, and the cows came to graze.”
Klein admits she was taken with “this novelty” of doing cow paintings but admits it has grown beyond that.
“I’ve kind of honed in on doing the portraits,” she told the Chronicle. “I’m much more interested in how they look — they have expressions.”
Klein installed the 36 works at the Fox Chapel library around Dec. 11, she said. Can’t make the show? Check out her works at paulagarrickklein.com.
Klein, for one, doesn’t see an end to the cow paintings. She doesn’t need to — she’s doing great work and has found a niche that makes sense to her.
“Watching them is such an authentic experience,” she said. “It’s like tapping into nature.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.