Bonnie Mohr is wife. A mom. A farmer. An artist. And normal. She wrote once, "My work is a reflection of who I am, and what I believe. It is simple, and it is truthful! It defines moments, places, and things in life that are good, pure and right. I believe that if you engage your life and everything you believe in whole-heartedly , with conviction, passion and love…..everything else will fall into place."
If you are reading this and thinking, "I have never heard of Bonnie Mohr." You are probably wrong. Her paintings have been seen by thousands, if not millions of people. It's because of Bonnie's simple approach to both her life and work that drew me to want to sit down with her and find out what is on the other side of that brush.
So read on. I hope that you will not just get to know Bonnie in a better way, but you will understand more of her passion.
John: Bonnie, you grew up in a large family, correct?
Bonnie: Yes. There were eight children: seven girls and one boy. I was the second oldest. We grew up on a small, family dairy farm in Southern Minnesota. I really would have to refer to that as a simpler time compared to way we raise our children now. Especially with social media and the technology era that we live in. I grew up on a dairy farm and because most of us were girls, we grew up as a strong family unit. We worked as a family. Us girls, we milked cows and stacked hay and picked beans, and picked up rocks in the field.
We grew up in a world where less is more. It was also a world of hand-me-downs and shopping at the garage sales, and, I guess you’d say, really just being happy with what we had. It was kind of a nice way to grow up. Our family believed in church and togetherness. My parents gave us a strong foundation to go on with life and we learned to make the most of what we had. So that’s my upbringing.
John: Have you and your husband raised your kids in a similar fashion then?
Bonnie: Totally. Our strategy is to allow our kids enough freedom to grow and fit into the world of today, while instilling a strong foundation. What a lot of kids lack today are strong roots and the basics that prepare them for life. By that, I mean work ethic and responsibility and trustworthiness; about the ethics of life and going to church. We follow in line with a lot of families in that our kids participate in sports and are involved in different clubs and activities, and so we don’t always have those sit down meals three times a day—like I grew up with.
I find that our lifestyle is more on the fly and more on the go, but the advantage we have to raising our kids today is that we do live on a farm, and a dairy farm on top of it, which is quite labor intensive. A lot of the learning about responsibilities just naturally happen on a day-to-day basis around here. It’s not like we have to think of ways to try and raise our kids to be good, responsible young citizens. It’s a lifestyle. Farming has all the hard work and sacrifice and commitment that goes into a very rigorous lifestyle, and it’s one that’s almost hard to make a living at.
The upside of it, the silver lining in the cloud has been that if you’re trying to raise good kids, it happens almost in a natural manner on a farm, because of the things that happen here. They learn about life and death, they learn about care and responsibility. They learn about working together. They learn that our livelihood is contingent on the weather and circumstances that are out of our control. Truly, out of us eight kids growing up, there are only two of us now that live on a farm. And I’m the only one that is sort of repeating my own childhood in the way we are raising our children. I think it’s just a real rich blessing and I know that our kids are going to be set for life.
Our job is to raise them, and I say we’ve got them until they’re 18 and after that they’ve got to be ready to go. Having a farm and being able to raise our kids this way has been just a huge, wonderful blessing for us and it feels good. There aren’t a lot of people who have that opportunity anymore.
John: That’s very true. Bonnie, you had mentioned that in your family growing up, church was certainly an integral part. How did you become more aware of who Jesus is and how did you start to follow Him, as opposed to, say, riding the coattails of your parents?
Bonnie: I think everybody has his or her own journey in life to finding Jesus, and then with figuring out to what degree of commitment you’ll live your life for Him. For me, my life every day is a glorification to God and what He has blessed me with. I know that the blessings in my life are because of God and that it is He that works through me to create and fashion my life. I think as a kid growing up, I just followed in line with the rest of my siblings. We didn’t question going to church. We didn’t question who God was.
We were taught who God was. We were taught what our religion is and we went to church. We grew up in an era where you didn’t challenge your parents or talk back. You were just obedient and disciplined. I’m really thankful that I was blessed to have that sort of an upbringing, because at a pretty young age I became aware of who God is and why we’re here. And that everything we have is a blessing from God, too. Thankfully, I married another Christian, and we were both Catholic. That was another blessing: not having to choose what religion we would raise our children with.
Come to the water
Live in the moment, and Be.
Refresh your mind. Rest your body. Renew your spirit.
Regain a gentle heart and Peaceful soul.
Restore in The Power that is greater than you.
- Bonnie L. Mohr
For me, once we started farming and my business was starting to grow and we were having children, the load got heavier and heavier. Managing and coping with the load of life, really hit a threshold for me when our third baby was born. I was still trying to be a farm wife and milk cows. I was up at night with babies and I was trying to paint and I was running my own business by myself.
I guess the defining moment for me in life where I really made a 100% conscious decision that I needed God in my life--and that Jesus was my strength—was when that third baby came along. I crashed and burned. My wonderful, busy, happy life became too much for me. It was at that moment that I truly turned my life over to God. And I saw that because I was young and ambitious and strong and healthy, like a lot of people in life, I was wanting and expecting more faster and was in the “bigger is better” mindset.
I wanted it all, so to speak. I couldn’t work fast enough and the days weren’t long enough and I was trying to do everything. But what I was really doing was living life with my own set of goals and values, and not asking myself what God and Jesus wanted for me. It was at that time that I turned my life over to God and decided that I would let him take the wheel. That I would be happy and enjoy and embrace every day of my life and whatever he put in my path for each day. That was a big turning point in my life. And ever since then, I’ve really lived my life more about what does God want me to do. What does God want me to do with what he’s given me? How am I able to serve him?
I’ve really started to learn that the true root of my happiness is living my life for God and for Jesus. When you are open to that reality, all sorts of wonderful things start to happen to you, because you now are … you’re working for God. Your life is for Him and life here takes on new meaning and purpose all of the sudden, which makes it very exciting.
The other part is that, I guess, for the first 15 to 18 years of my career, I thought I was going to be a cow artist. I grew up on a dairy farm and I was painting cows and rural America and domestic animals and the like. I have built a very substantial following in the rural American art field, and especially, in the cow world with dairy farmers. Kind of obtained a level of worldwide recognition as a cow artist. When I starting painting inspirational art, and when my life starting changing, I began to see and feel that there was a lot more to what was going to happen with my art. And now I really believe that the first part of my career was a warm-up for the more important stuff, for what’s coming ahead.
"Life is not a race - but indeed a journey. Be honest. Work hard. Be choosy. Say 'thank you,' 'I love you,' and 'great job' to someone each day. Go to church, take time for prayer. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Let your handshake mean more than pen and paper. Love your life and what you've been given, it is not accidental - search for your purpose and do it as best you can. Dreaming does matter. It allows you to become that which you aspire to be. Laugh often. Appreciate the little things in life and enjoy them. Some of the best things really are free. Do not worry, less wrinkles are more becoming. Forgive, it frees the soul. Take time for yourself - plan for longevity. Recognize the special people you've been blessed to know. Live for today, enjoy the moment." - Bonnie Mohr
I think really I’ve just started to tap into the second phase of my career, which I believe will be more inspirational art that holds great meaning and changes people’s lives. It’s been pretty amazing so far, and I’m more or less just a sponge soaking it all up right now. So I’m very excited about what type of work I will be producing down the road.
John: I really appreciate you sharing that testimony, Bonnie. It sounds to me like God has done some amazing things in your life, and I know those words carry a lot of weight behind them, so I certainly appreciate that. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about how you first became interested in being an artist and painter, and if there are any other mediums that you enjoy?
Bonnie: I work only in oil. At the beginning, I started out in some acrylic and a little bit of pencil drawing, but oil is my number one choice because of the richness of it. And also because of, I guess, the qualities of oil paint and everything you can do with them. I’m fascinated with—frankly, in love with—oils for another reason, too. The masters used it. I think, if you’re going to do anything in life, why not try to be the best and stack yourself next to the best if you can. Why not try to emulate them? So because they painted in oil, it’s just my love and fascination also to paint in oil.
I would love to do some sculptures some day, but there’s just so much for me to learn in this area yet that I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to get that far. As far as why I’m an artist, there’s really only one answer to that, and it’s because this is what God’s quest is for me. The likelihood of me becoming an artist, in my opinion, was about equal to me becoming an astronaut. I had no calling at a young age for it, other than that I was fascinated with color and design. There was something magical about artwork to me, though, and I was just drawn to it because of color and design. I had a silly fascination for anybody that could paint. I just thought that was so cool.
I remember going to college for Dairy Production, with a minor in Communications, and one day while studying in my dorm room, I began thinking about how great it would be to spend my whole life doing something fun, like the way hobbies are fun. Like an athlete, a pro athlete, who gets to play football or basketball their whole life and get paid for it. I started thinking about using the talents that I’ve been given--and we each have something we’re good at—but then I kind of just put that thinking away in a box and put it up on a shelf somewhere and that was the end of it. It was the seed, perhaps.
On a side note, on evenings and weekends when I wasn’t studying or going out or traveling, I used my art as expression of who I was. I enjoyed picking up a paintbrush and putzing with it. That was really the extent of it then. In fact, I have no formal training; I’m self-taught. I just have always had this fascination with art. I went to some art shows back in the ‘80s. I don’t know if you remember, but western and wildlife was huge and there were western and wildlife art shows all over the country. You could go to convention centers and attend art shows and look at artists’ work and things like that. I did that.
I went to a couple of shows and walked around in great awe of these people who had this talent, this amazing talent. I really don’t know why, but I just thought, “I wonder if I could do that?” Thinking back to high school, I did take an art class and loved it. I’d say I was maybe average or slightly above average. As I got older, I continued to have this magnetic attraction for art and just kept wanting to do it.
When we got married, my husband had a job where he traveled a fair amount and so I had time on my hands. I did pursue learning to teach myself to paint. At that point it was purely a hobby though. The more I worked at it—and it was a struggle since I’m not naturally that gifted or talented—the better I got. I’ve had to learn a lot, and I struggled, but I really worked hard. There are no artists in my family, and I didn’t know any artists personally. What it really boils down to, I believe, is that this is the path God wanted for me. I’m just a slow learner and it’s taken me awhile to get this far and develop my skill level.
Today is a gift. Embrace it with joy and anticipation... realize the possibilities. It beckons you towards your destination in life. Be at peace - you are exactly where you are meant to be at this moment. God has carefully chosen the people, events, joys and challenges on your path today. The things you will encounter are stepping stones of what is to come. Make the most of today. Focus on "the present" - you will see and appreciate things you might otherwise miss. Follow your heart - search to find your purpose in life and you will find meaning and happiness.
Use your talents, do your best, contribute. Make a difference, because you can. Be passionate about your journey - sing, dance, laugh, and love as you go. Give praise and allow time for prayer. The promise of tomorrow begins with the endeavors of today. Do not let the fast-forward pace of the world deprive you from savoring "the now." Seek things that fill you with love and bring you joy. Have faith, it fosters hope - it makes the difference. Believe, with God all things are possible.
Live well - live today, for it is a gift.
- Bonnie L. Mohr
Once I really got going with it and became serious about my art, I just did it on evenings and weekends while I had my other job. I was in marketing and communications for a publishing company. At that point my husband traveled and we didn’t have children, so I had time to work at it. In a very big nutshell, that’s really the process I went through. I guess, after about two or three years of actively pursuing art and teaching myself on a serious level, my skill level got to a point where I was painting quite well. I started showing my work and I landed a job with an IA company to paint one their bull studs.
At that point, I decided I was going to try this full time, and I put in my notice at my job. My husband was very supportive and he just said, “You know, if it doesn’t work out, you can always get a job.” I made the decision that I wouldn’t wait until I was 65 to pursue my dream, or wake up one day and say, “I wished I would have done that.” I decided that I would try it in the here-and-now, and it’s been a big journey. I definitely have earned my stripes. It’s been wonderful, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the path God chose for me. I think that’s where faith really comes in, when you need to stick with it and pursue it. So, here I am.
John: Bonnie, who would you say is your biggest influencer? Who do you look at and go to or listen to or read or whatever and find yourself inspired by that person?
Bonnie: I have a couple of pieces of art, actually, hanging in my home that are by an Italian artist from the 18th century. William Adolf Bouguereau is his name. It’s very interesting; he’s painted a lot of religious images. He was actually French. His work is phenomenal. He has some great religious pieces that he did. I’d say right now, he is probably my greatest inspiration as an artist. Actually, hanging downstairs in the house I also have a couple pieces of other pieces I love by … Oh, geez; I’m drawing a blank right now. I’ll run down and check after a while, but I don’t know. I’d have to say that as far as artists those two are probably my favorite and as far as authors, I don’t know. I don’t really read a lot. Max Lucado.
John: Yeah, Lucado.
Bonnie: He’s a very inspiring man as well. I love some of his books. He’s sort of been an inspiration to me as well.
John: What would you say to the young inspiring artist? The 8-year-old or 12-year-old young man or lady who looks at your work or at William Adolf Bourguereau’s work or anybody else’s and says, “Wow. I want to do something like that.” How do you encourage that young person?
Bonnie: I think the thing I have learned is to dream the impossible, because it really is not the impossible after all. I truly believe that if you have a love of something, if you are passion-driven and want to achieve it—whatever it is—then there’s no replacement in the world for that passion and hard work. That’s probably what I learned as a kid growing up on the farm and that’s probably what has carried me to where I am today. Like I said, there’s really no logic to why I’m doing what I’m doing. I think I was just really true to myself and followed my heart. I prayed about it and I never gave up.
I think we live in a world today that’s more of a disposable, fast-paced, instant gratification type of world, and unfortunately our younger generations are learning that they have the ways and the means to have what they want instantly, and so much, too. Fortunately, that’s not the way I grew up, because that’s really not the way it works when it comes to really great things in life. Really good things require hard work, dedication and persistence, and they require having a dream and, of course, conviction. That’s sort of the moral of my story, I guess, since nothing has come easy for me either. But I had, and still have, the desire to be successful. My belief, as I’ve said, is that if you work hard and pray about what you’re pursuing—and if you persist—you will probably succeed.
Most people just never take it that far, from what I’ve seen. Many people give up. Then I think it’s all about being happy with what you have. Finding true joy and satisfaction in what you do have or already do is important too, because too many people in life just mope about what the next guy’s got and what they don’t have. Life can’t be about what they wished they could have, but about really plowing into their own life and what they do have. I think that’s it.