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Emma Caldwell depicts dairy cows with presence and energy

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 10 October 2013

As the fifth generation to grow up on Maple Holme Farms in Carp, a village just outside of Ottawa, Emma Caldwell developed a lifelong love of two things – art and cows.

It began before she was old enough to attend school. When her father finished his morning chores for the 40-cow Holstein herd, he would spend time drawing with Emma.



“My family has always been extremely supportive of my art career, but it was my dad that started the ball rolling,” she says.

He, too, has a creative side. According to Emma, her father always had a passion for drawing and painting. He used to carve and paint duck decoys, but lately, when he has time, he has been carving quartz stone sculptures, she says.

Emma Caldwell dairy artistAs she grew, drawing and other forms of art became an outlet for Emma when she struggled in the classroom. After being diagnosed with two learning disabilities, she continued to focus on her talents and decided to pursue it further.

A student at Queen’s University, she studied printmaking intensively and experimented with it in many forms. Yet it is painting that clicks best with Emma, especially oil painting. “I am more comfortable with a paintbrush than I am with anything,” she adds.

To enhance her technical skills, she tries to draw and paint every day. She keeps a sketchbook within reach and has one in every room. In the summer of 2011, she challenged herself to complete a painting every two weeks. Even though she fell short of her goal of eight paintings, this young artist finished six works of art and learned a lot in the process.

“It helped me grow in huge leaps and bounds,” she says.

She learned she could fit a painting career into her other daily activities of farm chores, cattle shows and 4-H meetings. “If I had any doubts about becoming an artist at that point, that challenge helped me overcome them,” Emma says.

Two years later, in addition to chores and online classes, Emma is capable of completing a painting every 10 days.

Emma Caldwell dairy cow paintingShe has advanced her skills by working as a studio assistant for renowned Canadian abstract artist David Urban during his artist residency at Queen’s and as an assistant for master muralist Pierre Hardy.

“I have learned an invaluable amount from these experiences, about painting, business, time management, studio habits – things you can’t learn from books or even art school,” she says.

“I hope to work with more artists in the future. It has been such a rewarding experience and every artist has a different story.”

Emma is always trying to expose herself to different works of art to be inspired and influenced by other artists. At Queen’s she studied the Renaissance, Baroque and Dutch Golden Age in art history.

While she says she found inspiration there, Emma admits she is more influenced by the works of contemporary artists such as Sophy Brown, Craig Kosak, Elise Genest and Teresa Elliott.

In particular, the colour, dynamic and dramatic lighting of Teresa Elliott’s depictions of Texas Longhorns have had an effect on Emma. “I want to bring that same kind of energy in my work,” she says.

Too young to have defined her own style, Emma aims to give her paintings presence and energy. “I want a painting to be more than just a picture,” she says. “It needs to have a life of its own.”

That life stems from her own farm experience. Although her family sold its cows and quota in 2007, they continue to grow soybeans, barley and corn. They also house their 4-H projects, which includes a small show string of heifers, sheep and horses.

“When my family sold our herd, it left a big hole in my heart,” she says. “I never realized how big a part [the cows] played in my daily life.”

In addition to cows, Emma paints sheep, horses, pigs and chickens “to change it up a bit and keep it fresh,” she says.

As a farm girl, she knows the level of care and thought that goes into working with livestock. That is the life she wants to represent within her work, and it is one of the reasons why the agriculture community is embracing this up-and-coming artist.

Not yet finished with university, she has already had three paintings commissioned by members of the dairy industry.

It began when she tweeted a picture of a painting of the well-known Ayrshire Sweet Pepper Black Francesca that she was working on in school.


Holstein Ontario staff members noticed it on Twitter, and within a day Emma was commissioned to paint Gillette E Smurf, the world record holder for lifetime milk production, for the association’s fun auction at its annual general meeting this past spring.

Organizers of the Maxville Holstein Show also commissioned a painting from Emma for the grand champion of the 2013 fair, and she just finished a painting for a dairy family in Ontario.

The original painting of Francesca ended up being of R F Goldwyn Hailey, 2012 Supreme Champion at the World Dairy Expo and Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, and was also auctioned off online this spring with a portion of the proceeds going to Farm and Food Care Foundation.

Emma credits the advancement of her career largely to social media.

“Social media has allowed me to put myself and my art out into the world and given me a reach I never imagined possible,” she says.

In addition to her presence on Facebook and Twitter, Emma blogs about her work at and recently launched a new website (

As the momentum of her career continues to grow, Emma is working to finish her university classes online to graduate this coming spring. This allows her to spend more time in her studio and to look to other areas where she can gain additional experience.

“My goal as an artist is to help share what producers see in their animals. I want to give the dairy community something that they appreciate,” she says.

At the same time, Emma doesn’t want to limit herself to a single path. She knows she wants to be an agricultural artist but hopes to expand beyond livestock.

She’d like to explore the depiction of barns and farmhouses and capturing their place in time and history.

“When I see an old, empty barn, I think of it as a symbol of sacrifice or perhaps someone’s forgotten dream,” she says.

There is beauty there and a way of life, her life, which she plans to express with every stroke of the paintbrush.  PD

TOP: Beyond livestock, this artist from Carp, Ontario, enjoys painting barns to capture their place in time and history.

MIDDLE: Emma Caldwell’s goal as an artist is to show dairy animals in the way she views them. In this painting, titled “Show Potential,” she wanted to convey how dirt is a part of farm life but not necessarily a deterrent to raising healthy, vibrant heifers. Photos courtesy of Emma Caldwell.