From painting ponies to planning parties, established artist Janet Crawford is a “Jill” of all trades. She surrounds herself with her passion for horses, painting and event planning and spends her time pouring over the smallest details of her latest project.
At an early age, Crawford knew that she wanted to be an artist. She began drawing at age three, and by the time she was in Kindergarten, she knew that she would be an artist. “Even in kindergarten, I was sure that I would be an artist,” says Crawford, “It’s hard to explain, but it wasn’t a choice. I never considered anything else.” Her childhood art lessons eventually led Crawford to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Rhode Island College.
Along with art, horses have always been part of Crawford’s life-plan. She explains, “I was lucky enough to have extremely supportive parents and an uncle with horses. He encouraged my sister and me to have horses and ponies, and a lifelong interest was born.”
Crawford now lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts with her husband, Rodney Hicks, a well-known Hackney trainer, and their son, Danny. Their home is located conveniently close to the rolling green hills of Rodney Hicks Stables. Based in the Berkshire Mountains, the historic farm, currently shared by three stables, features a half-mile outdoor track that was formerly used by Berkshire Downs.
It is during her early morning walks at the farm that Crawford finds her inspiration for painting. “I love walking the track at the farm, taking pictures of the ponies working,” said Crawford. “They always inspire me, from the mare and foal shots to the pasture scenes. My Corgis are also great models. I am working on a painting of one of my puppies right now.”
One horse breed has always been dear to Crawford’s heart. “When I was very young, a photo in a picture book on horses caught my eye,” she said. “It featured a pony with a braided mane and beautiful neck: the Hackney.” Hackneys, known as the “sports car of driving, are extremely athletic, smart, and great company. The best way to understand the appeal of the breed is to sit behind one. It’s one of life’s great experiences.”
Crawford has been closely involved with her favorite breed for nearly twenty years. Several of her accomplishments include designing the logo for the American Hackney Horse Society and competing in the amateur exhibitor division. “I’ve been an amateur exhibitor for many years, showing in Devon, Harrisburg, the Royal, and this year won my first World’s Championship with a three-year-old pleasure pony, Four Point 0.”
Despite her love for the Hackney breed, Crawford has a newfound appreciation for the Saratoga Racetrack. “After painting show horses for so many years, it is refreshing to study the bright silks, the lean bodies and the chiseled heads of the Thoroughbred.” Like any equestrian, Crawford appreciates the quality of conformation and grace within the equine breed. “You know you’re devoted to painting horses when you see a great looking animal and you can hear your heart pounding in your ears. That’s the reaction that I have when I go to the yearling sales or Louisville and see an individual that intrigues me.”
According to Crawford, “Expression is as key in painting as it is in the show ring.” Within each painting, she tries to capture the raw power and brilliance that each individual portrays. At the moment, Crawford has turned her focus to conformation and studying the way light reflects off of horse’s coats.
If Crawford has “painter’s block”, she turns to the masters for rejuvenation. From Alfred Munning’s dexterity at capturing form to Frances Mabel Hollams’ adept ability to recreate the planes of a horse’s face, Crawford finds her passion again.
At times, Crawford reflects on her days of painting in college. “The best art advice was in college, from Professor Sam Ames. He would often yell, “Squint!” when we were painting from life. Getting the basics down first, and seeing the planes of the model rather than trying to get the details right away was sound advice.”
Today, Crawford also uses her gift for observation and precision within her artwork to plan charity and equestrian events. With her sharp eye and talent, she organizes, designs, and hosts large-scale parties—taking care with even the minutiae—to create magical evenings. “I love using creativity in unusual ways. I enjoy planning equestrian events and creating beautiful settings. Working with flowers and props can be a nice change of pace while still staying in the creative field. I’ve always enjoyed the social aspect of the horse world, and putting on events that promote our industry and raise money for charity has become a passion of mine.”
Crawford combined her skills as an artist and event planner with the Berkshire Carousel. The Berkshire Carousel is a thirty-six horse carousel which was founded to provide fun family entertainment for the residents of The Berkshire County. As one of the contributing volunteer artists, Crawford created two of the horses on the carousel: the hackney and the American Saddlebred. “I am an avid promoter of the Hackney breed and our industry as a whole, and wanted to create a lasting tribute and educational piece for the Hackney. In order to create the Carousel horse, The Aristocrat, I needed to fundraise for the sponsorship. With the help of an event planner friend, Anne McLaughlin, I started a series of equestrian-themed parties to raise money and awareness of the charities and promote our industry in a positive and fun way.”
Crawford and her husband often travel with the ponies to a variety of competitions, where every fast-paced day is a new experience. Over the winter months, she will be working on portrait commissions from her clients. Despite her long hours and full days, Crawford loves her career choice. “Doing what you love in life is a privilege. I’m honored every time a client entrusts me with their horse or dog. It’s very rewarding to share that with someone. Beyond that, there are simple rewards of being an artist. When you get a brushstroke just right or enjoy the contrast of an unexpected color combination, it doesn’t feel like work.”