MiVT: Pika Works

ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) She's been to countries all over the world, taking pictures of animals at every stop. Those photos serve as inspiration for two-decades worth of paintings that are Made in Vermont.

Joan MacKenzie goes through thousands of pictures she snapped during her latest trip to pick the subject of her next painting.

"Oh my gosh, the elephants eating the thorne bushes," MacKenzie said. "I guess I like to feel an interaction somehow between the animal and myself. They're looking at me a certain way."

The Essex Junction artist has taken photos of animals in Kenya, Costa Rica and Italy.

""I always loved animals. When I was a kid I used to have stuffed animals rather than dolls," MacKenzie said.

But It was while hiking in the Western part of the U.S. more than 20 years ago where she discovered the animal for which her business is named -- the pika. The pika is part of the rabbit family, about the size of a hamster with large ears and no visible tail. They live in rock piles in the mountains.

"When you're hiking along you can hear them. It's like fishing. You sit by the side of the trail. You've heard a pika and you wait until they come out and try to get their picture," MacKenzie said.

She started painting the photos of her pikas and putting them on postcards. "But at some point, it just wasn't enough color for me," she said.

After meeting a couple of moose in Underhill, MacKenzie moved on to other animals and the postcards expanded to prints. She's also produced a good share of pet portraits. "And it's been something that's really been quite fun, because somehow I've been able to capture something about the animal and every commission has gone okay," she said.

Most of the unframed prints go for $30. Originals can range from $90 to $600. They can be found through her website, but Pika Works will also be at the Essex Fall craft show at the end of the month and the Vermont handcrafters show in South Burlington in November.

"Every picture that I do pops back a memory from sometime, someplace," MacKenzie said. "She's a very sweet, Italian cow that I met near Ortisei. I walked right up to her, I touched her head and I fell in love with her furry ears."

An animal-loving traveler on a 20-year journey with her business -- paintings, each with a story to tell.