Featured Artist: Katherine Dunn

Featured Artist: Katherine Dunn

Photo courtesy of Katherine Dunn

S&H editor Ben Nussbaum spoke with Maine-based artist Katherine Dunn about hauling animals across the country—and much more. Look for her art throughout the issue.

You live on a 30-acre farm. Tell me about Apifera.

We started out west in Oregon in 2004. My husband and I bought this dilapidated farm ... he’s a landscaper. We started out as a working farm. We raised some sheep, and we planted 4,000 lavender plants.

At the same time I was taking on elder animals. Goats and donkeys for example. People loved to follow my animal stories on a blog, and Apifera Farm became well-known as a sanctuary. So when we moved to Maine in 2016, we brought 30 animals. We chose to no longer raise animals but to focus on sanctuary work. And my dream was always to share the animals with elder people. Where we landed in Midcoast Maine is just perfect for that. It all fell into place. We’re now a nonprofit and that’s what I focus on—helping animals but also sharing them with the community, mostly elders.

I’d be remiss not to ask how you got all those animals across the country.

We bought a big trailer. We drove six days. Oh man, we had three pigs and the momma pig got pregnant by the papa pig—that wasn’t supposed to happen—and she gave birth to four piglets a few days before we left. So they all came.

I had to plan it all out. It was really quite an ordeal. But everything worked. I had so many fears that we’d stop at a gas station and an animal would roll out of the trailer. But nothing went wrong. We made it.

Sounds like the premise of a movie. Where did you stop at night?

I had to hire a professional horse hauler to take the donkeys and the horse. She went ahead of us. She gave me her contacts. So every night we would pull into a different barn. The animals just stayed in the trailer. I would feed and water. And everybody would go to bed. And we would sleep in a stall. It was something that I’ll only do once in my life. It was pretty cool.

How do you balance between art, community outreach, and the animals?

I started as an illustrator. I was in Minneapolis. I would do art until midnight every night. When I moved to the farm, I was ready for something different than art 24 hours a day. But I was still in a mode where if I wasn’t at the drawing table, I felt like I was being kind of neglectful of my art. But I got to a point where I thought, I’ve always dreamed about owning a farm. Just enjoy it.

So in terms of balance, I kind of have a system down, but I’m also older now—I’m 64 years old. You get to a stage ... I have this mantra. Let’s say I live to 75. It’s not that far off. What do I want to do with my time? That’s what I say to myself every day now. I get up and I’m with my animals, and then I ask, do I want to paint today? What do I want to create? Or do I want to do something different? I think I’ve gotten better at asking myself, what do I want to do today?

When you take on an older animal, you can’t go anywhere. You have to be committed to that life. And I have been. And now I’m tweaking it so that the art and animals—I’m letting my art, again, come up a few steps in priority.

What’s next overall for you?

One of the exciting projects that’s happening ... I just ordered a tiny trailer. I’ll be able to put my llama in there. It’s built like a concession coffee shop, so there’s windows that open, and you can sell stuff. So I’ll be toodling around in that. I’ll have my books and my art and an animal. I might do puppet shows. I don’t know. I might have grandparents sit inside with a grandchild and read to the llama. Lots of ideas percolating. That’s a new thing I’m working on to get my art out there more. I have a following, but it’s international. It’s not necessarily here in Maine.

When you do a piece that combines words and images (like the one on the final page of this issue) what comes first?

My work is very emotion based. A lot of images that I do are reflections of my work with older animals and death—or even the older people that I work with. Half the time I’m working on something and I think, what is this? What does this mean? And the words help me. I come up with words because I’m trying to figure out what it’s about.

Read Katherine's essay on the blessings of being an animal caretaker here.

Katherine Dunn

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