Happiness in Color

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Molly Hornaman paints the world with joy


ABERDEEN, S.D. – It’s difficult to write about Molly Hornaman using a plain, black font. A colorful pen would do her bright personality more justice. If you’ve met Molly, you know her laugh comes easy and her smile is ear-to-ear. And when she talks about the things that matter to her the most — family, animals, her career, and painting—her whole face lights up. Her artwork is like a love note to color and, in true Molly fashion, most everything she creates is made to bring a little happiness into someone else’s day. 

Molly has been painting and doing one art project or another for most of her life, a knack she likely picked up at a young age from being in 4-H and watching two of her aunts work as professional artists. Her first public art show, “Color Me Happy,” is on display during the month of July at Presentation College’s Wein Gallery. Just like its name implies, the show is full of both color and cheer. She says, “It’s a great show for kids, too, because it’s very colorful and fun with a lot of animals.” Dogs and cats, including Spirit, PC’s St. Bernard mascot, are center stage in “Color Me Happy,” along with the occasional giraffe and elephant sprinkled into the mix. Molly calls these pet portraits “Pico paintings” as a tribute to the chihuahua who started it all. She explains, “A close friend lost her chihuahua, Pico, and she was so sad. I wanted to do something to cheer her up, so I painted him and sent it to her and she called me crying and said, ‘I love this so much.’ After that, I started doing more paintings for people whose pets had passed away.”

That was three years ago. Since then, Molly has turned the front entryway of her home into an art studio and has completed well over 100 Pico paintings of dogs and cats. Most people hear about her paintings through word of mouth, with her most popular being a 12 x 12 portrait for $100. The keepsakes aren’t just for those who have lost a pet though. “Some people want to have a painting while they still have their pets around because they’re obsessed with their dogs, like me,” she laughs. Molly’s own four-legged best friend, Brinkley, has been an active volunteer in Aberdeen for over a decade. Every week, Molly brings him to Prairie Heights Healthcare, where she and the 13-year-old Maltipoo spend a few hours going room to room visiting residents. She says despite battling some recent health issues, Brinkley is still a regular and a big celebrity at Prairie Heights. “He loves people, and you can tell the residents that like dogs really light up when he comes in.” For residents who have been at the nursing and rehabilitation center for a long time, Brinkley has become a welcome friend. “They’ll say, ‘That’s my dog,’ and he kind of is everyone’s dog there because he knows them so well,” she explains. 

Just last year, Molly won a national Division Champion of Caring award for the duo’s visits. Along with volunteering at Prairie Heights with Brinkley, she works at the facility as a physical therapist assistant. When asked what is one of her biggest achievements so far, she is quick to mention how much she has enjoyed being at her job for the past 14 years. “When you see somebody come in who can’t stand or is non-weight bearing and then you watch them walk out the door a couple of months later, that’s very rewarding. I love helping people.” 

Seeing how Molly dedicates her career and volunteer time to caring for others, it’s no surprise her paintings do the same. She says, “To know I can make somebody else’s day by giving them a painting of a dog they loved—that’s the best.” Where does her compassion for people come from? The Aberdeen native credits her parents and family. She says her mom, a nurse, and dad, who worked for the post office, taught her and her three sisters to always look out for people and also to have a strong faith. Her twin sister, Jennifer Phillips, made the felt, leather, and paper flowers placed throughout her art show display, where all the animals are named after flowers. 

Painting has also become a way for Molly to step back from work and life and do a little bit of self-care, too. “It relaxes me, it’s my stress reliever. I’ll turn my music on, turn on my lights in my studio so it’s nice and bright, and open the windows and let the fresh air in and spend the day painting,” she says. As a self-taught artist, she doesn’t mind learning as she goes. “I’m experimenting with shading and different things and getting a niche for it. It’s really been a lot of fun.” // –Jenny Roth

 To reach Molly or to see more of her artwork, find her on Facebook.