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Lorraine Sheppard 

Animal Empath and Portrait Artist

The big cats' eyes hold your own with expressions of defiance and knowing, of vulnerability and wisdom. More than animal spirit portraits, they are mirrors of the human soul's natural resistance to possession and domestication. They whisper, "The Wild is still alive in you."

Bold works of art, they are created by a gentle woman who has survived a near fatal injury and illness, thanks to an enduring connection to Nature. A source of "animal magnetism" since childhood, Lorraine Sheppard was admonished on the New Jersey shore with "You'll have to take your animals home" when she was followed by four or five dogs that were not her own. After exploring life with the Order of St. Francis, she taught grade school, but a life of convention ended when a drunk driver collided with the car she was riding in. Lorraine had a "near-death experience" before there was a term for it. The momentary glimpse into an "unconditionally loving presence" left her longing to leave the world; art, alone, rooted her to daily experience. Today, her pastels, prints and pottery are displayed at several local galleries in the Pikes Peak area.

Your Dec. 3 show is titled The Return of the Bears and Other Loved Ones. How did you decide on that title? Years ago, I heard there was a Native American prophecy that the bears and other wild creatures would be returning in numbers greater than we've been accustomed. I liked the idea and wanted to herald that time.

Your conversion to art seems rather sudden. Following the near-death experience, I was in a state of apathy. All I wanted to do was go back ... Art, for me, is the nearest thing to heaven on earth. I began drawing for the sake of my own healing. It balances my service of others as a teacher, counselor and healer.

Why are animals -- and especially big cats -- a common subject? Is it because you're both survivors? The near death experience opened up a deep connection with all life. When my heart's open to the animals, my life's more meaningful and art is an act of love. My intention is to share the animals' view that life is both mystery and adventure, that we are all connected, that we depend on each other. Each animal portrait brings a message like boundaries, protection, perseverance . . . and the importance of play and dreaming. The older male lion (see photo above) is called "Shield" -- years later I realized his connection with Psalm 91, "His faithfulness is buckler and shield."

How do you communicate with animals? It's not a mysterious thing and it's available to anyone willing to take the time to listen. It's meditative. I begin by putting myself in God's presence and asking for guidance. Then I ask the animal, "Is there anything you have to say to us?" It's not necessarily words. I may get a feeling, an observation. I may find myself roaming an African desert or a particular habitat; so many habitats are vanishing and I often feel this through the animal.

What have the animals told you? They aren't always talking, of course. Often, they just enjoy us. From pets that have passed on, I've heard "I'm still here with you." Overall, the message of the animals is to be true to ourselves. Being something that you're not is the real extinction. Just keep on. Don't even consider failure. It's insignificant.

You can view Lorraine's art at her show, The Return of the Bears and Other Loved Ones, beginning Sunday, Dec. 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. at LIW Cargo Art Gallery, 713 Manitou Avenue, Manitou Springs. The show runs through Dec. 31. For more information, call 685-0452.

  • This week we speak with Lorraine Sheppard, an animal empath and portrait artist.

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