Little John-Wolf. Photography: Courtesy Donna Cox
Little John-Wolf. Photography: Courtesy Donna Cox

Celebrated by musicians, museums, and more, Donna Cox pulls inspiration from her love of wildlife.

Beneath the swaying boughs of lodgepole pine outside her Morrison, Colorado, studio, Donna Cox diligently works on her masterful oil paintings and graphite drawings. A self-taught artist, the sixth-generation Colorado native draws from her roots to meticulously capture Western wildlife and landscapes. Collected by celebrated country music stars, corporations, museums, and private patrons, her work draws inspiration from her love of wildlife.

Cox’s mother’s family were early settlers of Bellvue, Colorado, while her father’s side of the family homesteaded and built a ranch between Lyons and Estes Park. The large family could not make a sustainable living on the ranch, compelling Cox’s father to eventually work for the Bureau of Land Management and the family to move around the western states like gypsies with every reassignment. Cox and her two sisters averaged two or three schools a year; constantly on the move, they weren’t able to bring many childhood keepsakes with them. An amateur artist herself, Cox’s mother always ensured there was room for paper and pencils, so the girls drew a great deal.

But she initially didn’t follow art as a career, and it wasn’t until after Cox’s first son was born that she semiretired from the veterinary field and took her first class in oil painting. A vet tech for 40 years, Cox pulls from her deep knowledge of animal anatomy in her photorealistic renderings. Her experiences in the outdoors and hunting with her husband and two sons inform her ability to capture wildlife habitat and behavior. Even when she’s not outdoors, she invites it in: Her studio is surrounded by thick forest. Inside is a menagerie of taxidermied trophies — bear, mountain lion, antelope, and elk — from hunts of years past.

“Donna Cox captures the soul of the animals she paints,” extols singer Michael Martin Murphey. “Her renditions of various species show each creature as an individual spirit. Just as human beings are all unique, so are the animals of Donna’s universe.” The uniqueness comes from a striking attention to detail — so thorough that her paintings are sometimes mistaken for photography.

The painstaking detail derives from love: “My love for wildlife and the natural world are the main reasons that my work has always focused on animals,” Cox says. “I hope that through my art I can help to raise people’s awareness of how precious our land and wildlife are.”


Donna Cox will host her annual open house at her studio in Morrison, Colorado, December 9 – 10, 2016.

From the January 2017 issue.

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