Tribune Print Share Text

Beauty of bluebonnets

Landscape artist makes a name for herself with state flower

Created date

June 21st, 2010
The bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country may have gone to seed, but Pat McKinley catches a glimpse of their beauty every time she glances at the painting hanging above the couch in her living room. For the past 30 years, McKinley has carved a niche for herself as a landscape artist, capturing the fleeting, breathtaking panoramas of bluebonnets that blanket the Texas Hill Country each spring. I ve always dabbled in art, says McKinley, but I didn t get into the commercial end of it until my kids were in high school. McKinley began to sell her paintings, mostly scenes inspired by nature, through word of mouth. I had some friends who were artists, and we got together and called ourselves the Patio Artists. There were ten of us, all women, and we put on art shows at country clubs, banks, and downtown office buildings four times a year. She fell into painting bluebonnets by chance. We were going to visit some relatives in Canada, and I wanted to take them a gift that was uniquely Texan, she says. I couldn t find anything I wanted to buy, so I decided to paint a field of bluebonnets. The gift went over so well I decided to paint some more for an upcoming show. At the Patio Artists next exhibition, McKinley s bluebonnet paintings sold out by noon and she came home with orders for more paintings. I realized that I was on to something, says McKinley. I started to paint miniature bluebonnet scenes, appropriate for a tabletop, in addition to the larger oil paintings. The smaller size went over really well. As the orders began to pour in, McKinley found herself with repeat customers. The Officer s Wives Club at Fort Hood ordered several dozen at a time, she says. They would give them as gifts when a family was transferred off the base. McKinley s largest order, 500 paintings for an oil convention, took months to complete. It was a full-time job, she says.

Uniquely Texan

A native Texan who has lived in Houston for most of her adult life, McKinley takes pride in the state flower. It s breathtaking when you see a field of bluebonnets, she says. Each spring, we would drive to look at them around Austin and in the Hill Country. I would take pictures to give me ideas for my paintings. Word of McKinley s artwork spread to galleries across the state, including the prestigious Country Store Gallery near the Texas Capitol in Austin. One day, the owner of the gallery contacted me with a special request, says McKinley. Janie Briscoe, wife of then-governor Dolph Briscoe, wanted to learn how to paint bluebonnets. The owner asked if I would drive to the governor s mansion in Austin to give her lessons. McKinley agreed, but the arrangement fell through. Briscoe was voted out of office before McKinley could teach her first lesson. Since moving toEagle s Tracein 2005, McKinley has eased up on her artwork. I ve painted a bluebonnet picture or two for some of the residents and staff members here, she says, but right now I m involved with the bird-watching club, the drama club, and the Interfaith Advisory Council. And McKinley doesn t have to drive to the Hill Country anymore to witness the majesty of the bluebonnets. Residents and staff scattered seeds last year around the community s Lake Aquila and were rewarded this spring with a blanket of blue surrounding the lake. Our apartment home overlooks the lake, says McKinley. It was wonderful to look out our window and see the real thing.