For anyone who’s ever been told, “You’ll never make a living doing that”. Or, “You need something with more stability”, this story’s for you.

I initially met Stephen Henry last fall when his daughter hired me to do a session as a gift for her father, Stephen and his dog, Nacho. I already knew he was an incredibly talented, renowned artist with more awards and accolades than I can list because it would be the majority of this post, but I had no idea he did pet portraits until I asked for recommendations for my monthly feature.

artist with dog

His daughter clued me in and I requested to meet with him in his studio at The Monarch in Ogden to see him work and ask some questions. He was up for it and even had his best good friend Nacho with him making sure his work was up to snuff.

I’m always interested to hear how people choose, or end up in the professions they do. I asked the same of Stephen.
“I have been interested in art as long as I can remember.  My father and mother were both incredibly creative.  Together they owned a sign shop, and my father was a master sign painter.  My mother was pretty handy when it came to lettering as well, and she spent years making the paper signs that we used to see in the grocery market windows; you know, “MRS BAIRD’S BREAD, 3 LOAVES FOR $1”, etc.  She also had an absolute mastery of baking and cake decorating.  She could’ve set the world on fire if she had pursued that career.
Back to my father… Not only was he a craftsman with the lettering brush, but he was also a self-taught western artist.  He never completed the 7th grade, and after his service in WWII, he was advised by several higher ed institutions to forget art and return to the farm.  Undaunted, he never disregarded his impulse to create, and became not only a sign painter, but a western artist, also.
These are the influences that led to my addiction to art.”
I was also dying to hear how a plein air western artist got into doing pet portraits.
“I was commissioned, for the second time, by a dear friend and patron from Texas to paint a portrait of her dog.  The first painting was a large, single portrait.  The most recent commission, however, called for something a bit outside of the box.  She wanted a collage of her dog in various life stages, from pup to present day.  It occurred to me to make 9 square-format “tiles”, each a different portrait of her dog, and create a presentation system, utilizing velcro, that allowed her to arrange them in any way she wished.
What occured to me as I was making the paintings was how much I enjoyed making the paintings!  I realized that if I were to offer portraits in a small, square format, 8″ x 8″, that I could provide a quality original oil painting to customers at an affordable price.  It seems to have “taken off”!”.

Naturally, one of the greatest joys in my life is hearing the stories of how animals and their people end up finding each other in this crazy world. Stephen and Nacho’s story was no exception.

“Ahh, the story of Nacho..
9 years ago, the family was “dogless”, except for my father’s dog that we were taking care of.  Our dog Biscuit, a rat terrier that we had since moving here from Texas, had passed away just a few months before.
I had always joked that I wanted a chihuahua, and I would name him Ignacio, or Nacho.  My wife worked at a local charter school, and one of her students happened to raise chihuahuas.  For father’s day, my wife brought home a little wiggly pup that could, quite literally, fit in the palm of my hand.  We hit it off immediately, and soon he was sleeping in my hair at night and going with me everywhere in my truck.  Since then, he has been my best good friend, and is even a regular at the high school where I teach.  He comes every week for “Nacho Average Thursdays”, where students visit with Nacho and are offered opportunities to get credit recovery and snacks after school.  The snacks are often, as you may have guessed, Nachos!
He really got under my skin.  I grew up loving my dogs and other pets, but nothing like I have with this little dog.  He is my best good friend (think Forrest Gump and Bubba)”.

I met up with Stephen and Nacho on a Saturday, which happens to be the day of the week The Monarch holds a gourmet market featuring pickled foods, cured meats, coffee, olives and oils, breads, cheeses, and more. Following along with Stephen and Nacho as they weaved their way past the various vendors, I felt a bit like a celebrity couple’s entourage. Each place they stopped they were greeted with smiles and hello’s and of course Nacho was the main attraction getting love and pets from everyone. When it was time to move on, Stephen would tell Nacho, “C’mon buddy” and Nacho would trot up beside him back to the studio.
Walking behind them, I could almost picture the two of them, side by side, heading off into a wild west sunset together, best good friends forever.

If you’d like to see more of Stephen’s amazing work or get more information about his pet portraits, he can be found at Cow Creek Studio


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