Painting Her Own Way

Artist Sally Vannoy of Kalispell is an up-and-coming star in the western art scene

By Molly Priddy
Bigfork artist Sally Vannoy, pictured on Sept. 27, 2018. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

CRESTON – Step into Sally Vannoy’s painting studio in her home and you’ll understand the inspiration behind her lifelike works of art.

Each window of the new house could be a framed picture itself, with views of golden fields, the jagged blue peaks of the Swan Range, a gravel road cutting through tall grasses. These aspects are making appearances in her latest work — a mountain range behind a herd of horses, sunlit trees illuminated by alpenglow.

Her work is stunning in its detail and warmth, western scenes and creatures rendered perfectly and with the love of someone who grew up appreciating such things. Vannoy said she’s always had a knack for being able to draw, and growing up on a horse ranch in Kalispell, she would doodle what and who she saw in church and school.

“I have a really good eye,” Vannoy said in her studio, lowering her voice so as not to wake her young daughter from an afternoon nap. “It was something I’ve always loved.”

“Portrait” by Sally Vannoy.

Despite the love and parental support for her art dreams, Vannoy went to dental hygienist school after graduating from Flathead High School in 1998. She had a scholarship to an art program, but opted for the hygienist path.

Then her life took an unexpected turn. Her husband, Nate Vannoy, took a position apprenticing as a lineman in Wyoming, and it would mean a move of at least four years. Vannoy said she was not thrilled at the prospect of leaving the Flathead Valley, but it ended up being the best change of her career.

Before they moved, she attended the The Russell Event at Western Art Week in Great Falls, where she met western oil painting legend Jim Norton. Knowing she needed a mentor to learn the craft and that his was the best work she’d seen at the show, Vannoy reached out to Norton, to be told that he’d be offering a weeklong oils course at his cabin with other accomplished painters — in Wyoming.

“It was an hour from where were moving to live,” Vannoy said.

They painted horses all week, and Vannoy met another mentor in Grant Redden, also a cowboy artist. She had a good foundation with her drawing skills, but Vannoy learned about oils and some of the business side of the art world through her mentors.

“I haven’t had any formal training but I have awesome mentors,” she said.

An oil painting depicting wild sheep. Courtesy of Sally Vannoy.

Her oil paintings soon found a national audience. Vannoy was featured in Southwest Art Magazine, and other fine art publications. She was also inducted into The Society of Animal Artists at a signature-member level, a rare privilege. She won the Patron’s Choice Award at the Timeless Legacy exhibition at the Hockaday Museum of Art. Locally, her work is being shown at Going to the Sun Gallery in Whitefish, and in Bozeman at A. Banks Gallery.

With her youngest daughter headed to school full-time, Vannoy said she’s working on making this next year one of “big moves” for her career. She’s applying to more shows, has more time to paint, and is allowing herself to think big.

She paints commissions – such as a profile of someone’s recently departed and beloved horse – but largely creates for herself or for upcoming shows. In their new home, the Vannoys will have a wall of her work just for them that will never sell, of her two daughters and husband and the family’s adventures together.

An oil painting by Sally Vannoy.

This is the kind of love she puts into her paintings. It’s the unknown aspect the audience doesn’t automatically see, she said, because each painting has a story and means something more than just the scenery or animal depicted.

“My paintings are a journal of my life,” Vannoy said. “Every painting I do is something we were doing. I’m just painting what I love.”

For more information on Sally Vannoy, visit www.sallyvannoy.com.