By Shya Beth
No two living things are exactly alike and that’s what Wellington-based equine artist and entrepreneur Mona Snell captures effortlessly in all of her paintings. Working in pastels and oils, Mona uses each brush stroke to carve out a hint of her subject’s personality, whether the horse is with us or long gone.
Born in 1951 in Illinois, her passion for horses and art continued throughout her childhood and youthful adult years. Mona worked as a groom for Russell Frey and Val Renihan, and also studied art at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Like most destined equine artists, Mona drew horses constantly when not riding. “I would have to say I’ve been horse crazy all my life,” she said. “I always wanted a horse when I was little and would read all the horse books, drawing the horses that I would someday own — the breed, color, everything!” Although Mona has ridden many different types of horses in the hunters and amateur owners, her heart lies true to Thoroughbreds and jumpers.
When asked who inspires her both in art and life, Mona’s list is long and full of well-known names, both equine artists and other famous creatives. “Fredrick Remington, Charles Russell and Mary Cassatt come directly to mind,” she said. “I did a portrait of Mary Cassatt’s grand-nephew! His name was Sandy Cassatt, and he ran the breeding program at the Horizon Thoroughbred Farm in Illinois. He commissioned a portrait of himself as the master of the hounds for a club in Virginia and a portrait of his wife as well.
“I’ve done workshops with Julian Merrow-Smith, Dean Fisher in Italy, equine artist Jill Soukup at Chico Basin Ranch in 2017. That was the best week of my life, with such an amazing artist. We stayed in yurts, rode and painted from life. Swimming with the horses, no electricity, no TV, no internet — it was heaven!”
As well as being a part-time artist, Mona is well known in the Wellington show circuit as a dependable, hardworking property manager/caretaker, keeping a watchful eye on the equestrian homes. Since moving to Wellington, Florida, in 1997, Mona is living her dream life in one of the largest equine-centric locations in the world.
“When the Winter Equestrian Festival first started down here, many exhibitors rented their lodgings as very few owned homes or barns at that time,” she said. “Many permanent residents offered their homes for the two- and then eventually three-month periods to exhibitors on the show circuit. The owners would move out, and riders would move in. It was a win-win for both sides.”
Once the showing seasons started to get longer, people realized this was going to be a permanent fixture and started to buy farms, and that’s when Mona’s first client contacted her. Soon after being asked to manage her friend’s home in the Polo Club, Mona created Willoworks LLC. Her horse, Willow, aka Someone Moore Famous, inspired her business name, holding a special place in her heart. Mona’s last horse died seven years ago.
As far as her unexpected business venture, it has continued to grow. From one, three then five properties, Mona’s clientele expanded rapidly until she was managing 54 properties at once. “I really like this because you basically make your own hours. However, there are many stresses during hurricane season that come in the job description. I’ve gotten much better at managing stress over the years, but when you’re looking at a Category 5 storm looming right around the corner, there isn’t enough meditation to calm you down!” she divulged.
Of course, once the winter season rolls in, things pick up. “I’m fortunate to have worked in the horse industry and know many of the top riders, trainers and horses in the show jumping and dressage worlds, both as a horse person and an artist,” Mona said. From jumping, dressage and polo, there is never a dull day in one of the most competitive places in the horse world. “I get to see the greatest riders and horses, and you can’t get much better in terms of high-level competition: CSIO 3*, 4* and 5* competitions on a weekly basis in different disciplines. This doesn’t happen everywhere and it makes it really special here.” By March, Mona is ready for everyone to leave and the season to be over. “Time to have my quiet village back and be able to actually find a parking place!” she said.
When asked what a typical day looks like, Mona replies that each day is an individual. “There are no typical days. Wake up, feed and walk the dogs, head out to check on houses and more than likely meet a subcontractor or two. Think about all the little things in your home and multiply that by 26,” she said with a laugh.
Although Mona might be a property manager by day, by the time the sun starts setting she is away working on one of her paintings. “I am always working on a painting. Right now I’m doing a commission portrait of a couple as a surprise gift, then another of a dog as a Christmas gift. I love doing horses as well as cats, dogs, humans and landscapes.” From Mona’s use of lights, darks and rich, warm tones of the leather bridle, you feel like you already know her subject, even if you just saw it through her painting. An artist has truly achieved greatness when they can portray their subject in such a manner.
“I’ll probably die unknown, but that’s all right,” Mona concluded. “I don’t do art to gain recognition. I do it because I love it and I have to do it for me. I’d love to try sculpture eventually, but right now my time is so precious I just want to enjoy painting.”
Follow Mona Snell’s equine art on Facebook at Willoworks LLC and on Instagram @Monasnell
Photos courtesy of Mona Snell
Art Of The Horse is the world’s first equine art platform, established in 2014 by Shya Beth. With weekly articles featuring up-and-coming as well as world-renowned artists, exhibitions and art news, Art Of The Horse is the premier source for all things equine art. Visit artofthehorse.net.mo