Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2008 | People

Cow Crazy: Valerie Miller

By Shelbi Thomas
In addition to her stylized paintings of cows, artist Valerie Miller has branched out into "Pet Trayals"—portraits that capture the personalities of pets.

Grant Wood found his creative muse in rolling Iowa landscapes. Artist Valerie Miller finds it in cows.

As a native of rural northeast Iowa, Miller knows a lot about bovines—she's taken with their moist noses, their soulful eyes, and their centuries-old contributions to family farms. For the past decade, Miller's focused her talents on painting the distinct "character" of cows, often placing these gentle creatures against brightly colored backgrounds.

Now, she's using her trademark style to benefit the UI Tippie College of Business. Through her "Mini Moo" project, Miller is selling 5,000 limited-edition prints of a special cow named Tippie and plans to donate half the proceeds to benefit the school. The archival and canvas prints feature a Holstein dairy cow—distinguished by a furry white "I" from forehead to nose—against a gold background.

Although she earned a business degree, Miller, 03BBA, has always been an artist. Crediting her UI education for helping her establish a successful studio fresh out of college, she decided to show her gratitude and perhaps motivate other young female entrepreneurs.

Miller found the perfect model for her project in a pasture near her home. "Every time I lifted my camera to shoot photos of [the herd], this one cow moved in front of me so that she was always in the frame," recalls Miller, who owns Steel Cow Gallery and Studios in Waukon. "I took that to mean she wanted to be named Tippie."

Business school administrators and Miller alike have been blown away by the project's popularity as art lovers from San Francisco to New York City snap up the Tippie portraits for their homes.

"I love taking rural icons out of context," explains Miller of her unusual artistic approach.

Clearly, it was a good moo-ve.