NPPC consigns painting to honor industry icon
By JOLENE STEVENS
SIOUX CITY – Valerie Miller’s enthusiasm as a livestock artist was evident in the tone of her voice discussing her selection as the artist for a pig portrait.
The portrait was to honor a longtime Iowa-born leader in the pork industry.
Painting the pig was thrilling, especially that it was being done to honor someone in the pork industry, Miller said.
The painting, commissioned by the National Pork Producers Council, was unveiled in June at the 20th annual World Pork Expo held in Des Moines.
The painting of “Pig,” a pink-nosed white pig, was presented at that time to Rolland “Pig” Paul, a Granger native.
The NPPC has also commissioned two additional paintings to honor leaders within the next two years.
Paul, now retired and living with his wife, Donna, in Willow Springs, Missouri, spent 50 years before his retirement working in the purebred swine industry and establishing and leading a number of industry-related organizations.
He served on the boards of the American Yorkshire Club and United Duroc Swine Registry, now known as the National Swine Registry.
He is credited for his work as a fieldman for the Iowa Swine Breeders Association, now the Iowa Pork Producers Association, and later in 1965 for becoming the first executive vice president of the National Pork Producers Council. He served in that role from 1966 to 1969.
Paul is one of three authors of “The Pork Story: Legend and Legacy,” published by the NPPC. Assisting him were two subsequent NPPC vice presidents, J. Marvin Garner, from 1969 to 1978, and Orville Sweet, from 1979 to 1989.
The Pauls said having Miller’s artwork is extremely special to them.
“I was surprised and proud to be honored at the Expo with Valerie’s painting,” Paul said. “It now hangs in a prominent place in our home. Every time you look at it, it seems to have a different expression.”
Valerie Miller explained how she was selected for the consignment.
“My husband, Josh and I had been introduced to some NPPC staff members a few years ago at the World Dairy Expo,” Miller said. “Asked at the time if I’d ever painted pigs I said, ‘Yes. but not recently and that when I had completed one in progress at the time I’d show them that pig who would carry the name Walter.'”
She said she traditionally names all her livestock or animal subjects being painted using the names of friends or family.
The paintings are not works that are done quickly.
“As with all my paintings, I meet the animal in person before I paint him or her,” she said. “I take photographs myself. Paul was no exception. When I knew I was going to paint the NPPC’s painting, I visited a local farm to get some photos of pigs.”
She said taking pictures of pigs is trickier than getting photos of cows.
“They don’t like to stay still,” Miller said. “They are usually in a big group, and are so much closer to the ground than cows.”
This forced Miller to get creative with her photos.
“I ended up with no choice but to sit on the ground with the pigs, while the two farmer friends of mine helped me by moving the pigs around while I was taking photos,” she said. “I’m sure it was a funny sight with me on the ground, and the pigs running around as my friends made funny noises and moved their arms around to get the pigs to go where I wanted them to.”
“Not surprisingly I drove home from their farm with plastic on my car seat.”
Some of her consignments have taken more logistical planning, Miller said. Among these was one involving travel to Scotland to photograph – and later paint – Bonnie and Poppy, Scottish Highlander cows.
Other consignments have included those for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, Wisconsin Farm Bureau and local organizations.
Miller said that while she herself did not grow up on a farm, the Waukon community offers numerous opportunities for her on-farm visits to garner the needed livestock information and photos for her paintings.
Husband Josh is responsible for shouldering the responsibilities of the family’s 13-year-old art enterprise, Steel Cow LLC., an art company and studio. His wife schedules her own painting interests to coincide with the duties of caring for the couple’s two young sons, Eddie, 4, and Harry, 1 1/2.
“I’m comfortable with this,” Miller said while sharing she had known since her own kindergarten days she wanted to be a painter. “What with painting animals, something kids enjoy I’ve discovered, too, what I paint often becomes a decor for children’s rooms.”
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