At some juncture in our lives, most of us must choose: love or money.
But Anita Baarns is one of the lucky ones. She has been able to turn her twin passions for animals and art to profit by becoming a painter, primarily of portraits of horses and hounds. Her work will be promoting two of hunt country Virginia's premier events: the 100th anniversary of the Warrenton Horse Show, today through Monday, and the International Gold Cup, to be held Oct. 16 at Great Meadow in The Plains.
The Dutch-born Baarns, 41, who lives with her husband, J. T. Martin, two horses, a Rottweiler named Ashley and two cats in a yellow farmhouse in Round Hill, was already in her thirties when her career got its serendipitous start.
She had studied fine art in school, earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, but she always favored abstracts--big, splashy canvases--and, later, cozy sculptures made out of pine cones. Then the coaster came along, and Baarns's life veered onto a new course.
This wasn't a coaster of the stomach-churning variety, despite the sudden change in direction for the artist. It was the kind of coaster that hosts slip under guests' glasses to prevent rings on the coffee table, and it featured a copy of a painting by George Stubbs, the 18th-century English painter of equine portraits, who was a favorite of the late horseman and art patron Paul Mellon.
But these days, only a Mellon can afford a Stubbs--canvases can run to the seven figures--so a friend who admired the coaster but whose pockets ran to the three figures asked Baarns if she could copy the copy.
She did, and from that modest beginning, word of mouth spread among Baarns's buddies in the Piedmont and Fairfax fox-hunting clubs. Her business was out of the starting gate.
"I've never had to do any advertising," said Baarns, who works in a glassed-in porch with a view of her barn.
Diane Jones, who does double duty as secretary for the Warrenton Horse Show and executive director of the Virginia Gold Cup, describes Baarns's work as "traditional," an adjective much esteemed if not revered in hunt country.
"Tradition" is what the Warrenton Horse Show wanted to convey for its centenary, so the Baarns painting it commissioned for its poster depicts the much grander grandstand at the show grounds of a 100 years ago.
"Tradition" also is a permanent entry on the racing card for the International Gold Cup. This is the third year that Baarns has been chosen to do the official painting for the event. Her first painting, for the 1996 race, showed eventual victor Mihmaz. The handsome black gelding, which now fox-hunts with the Piedmont club, is shown splashing through a water obstacle at the head of a hard-charging field.
That work "put me on the map," Baarns said. This year her painting shows horses and jockeys airborne over a huge timber jump on the "steeplethon" course.
"Anita makes you feel the action," Jones said, adding her fervent hope that the stormy sky Baarns painted to add drama to the scene is strictly artistic license and "not a premonition of the weather to be" on race day.
Big paintings with multiple elements, such as the International Gold Cup canvases, can take Baarns several months, but the individual portraits of horses and dogs, which are the mainstay of her business, usually take about two or three weeks, depending on whether they are full-body renditions or head-and-shoulders cameos. They are priced according to the time and the media involved--oil, pastels, charcoal or pen and ink.
When Baarns receives a commission, she visits the beloved pooch or favorite mount with camera in hand. She takes her time, waiting for the animal to forget about her presence and reveal its character. Then she shoots photos to work from later in her studio.
"I look for that special light in the eye, so the eye is alive," Baarns said, pointing to her portrait of Watchman, a top and now retired hound of the Piedmont Hunt. "Then I can paint around it."
Although Baarns's canine clients have included Yorkies, bulldogs, Labs and plain old mutts, she confesses to being "in love" with the foxhounds. "They have this music that gives you chicken skin," she said, referring to the baying of the hounds when the pack is on a scent.
Baarns's patrons often want to be painted with their pets or horses, and she obliges. But she finds painting skin "tricky," she said, after "painting a lot of fur."
Still, she has "always wanted to paint pigs," and she eagerly awaits the day that some bodacious Babe comes along to sit for a porcine portrait.
CAPTION: Round Hill artist Anita Baarns, shown with her horse Conrad, paints hunt scenes, putting her work in demand among devotees of the rural tradition.
CAPTION: Baarns, 41, works in a glassed-in porch at her home. Her paintings are being used to promote the Warrenton Horse Show and the International Gold Cup.