Kelsey Hubner at her Jeffers home with a set of Classic Equine travel bags featuring her artwork. To Hubner's right are cattle skulls being prepared for painting. In her left hand, Hubner holds a branding iron with her registered K-Bar-Heart brand, often seen in her artwork.An example of Kelsey Hubner's "dumpster diving" artwork. Hubner and her grandfather often salvaged and repaired thrown-away furniture items, which Hubner adorned with her art. Kelsey Hubner started sketching horses before she started kindergarten. The self-trained artist is now selling her artwork locally and in Arizona. A horse sketch by Kelsey Hubner features her registered K-Bar-Heart brand. The sketch is one of several featured on a line of Western-theme travel bags sold by a Texas company.An early work by artist Kelsey Hubner. A cattle skull painted by Kelsey Hubner on display at the Artists on Main gallery in Ennis. An Arizona gallery has placed an order for several of the painted skulls and Hubner expects to sell many in Ennis this summer.

Jeffers artist turns skill into profit

ENNIS -- Local artist Kelsey Hubner always loved horses and taught herself to draw the beautiful creatures while she grew up on a ranch in Jeffers. For years, she sketched and painted simply for pleasure, often decorating salvaged furniture items she found with her grandfather while "dumpster diving." Now, her art is featured on a unique line of luggage and her creations are available for the first time at an Ennis art gallery.

"It's something I always loved to do," she said. "I was born with a love for horses. Horses and ranching and hunting - those are my passions and I always kind of based my artwork around horses."

Hubner molded horses from clay when she was a toddler and started sketching as soon as she was old enough to be trusted with a sharp pencil. In junior high school, she had the opportunity to take a lesson from Larry Zabel, one of the nation’s premier Western artists. "It kind of took off from there, and I developed my own style," she said. "After high school, I started just to experiment and do my own thing with it."

Hubner said Ennis painter Cathy Toot has provided valuable advice, as well.

After years of creating artwork as a hobby, the Jeffers cowgirl got into art-for-pay when a Texas company selected her sketches to decorate a Western-themed luggage line. "Alta Williams, she went to school here and she works for a company in Texas known as Classic Equine," said Hubner. "She had seen some of my stuff on Facebook and she knew me growing up. She contacted me and asked me to start doing sketches for them. Over the course of a couple years, I would randomly do outlines for them. Finally, they called me and told me they wanted some ranch-looking horses. I was actually night calving, and that's how I kept myself awake, doing these sketches for them."

The company loved the sketches, which now adorn a set of Classic Equine travel gear. "You never think that a dream like that is going to come true, and when it does, it's pretty rewarding," said Hubner. "I felt pretty honored. It felt pretty good, just being some girl in the middle of nowhere in Montana, and they find me."

Another friend asked Hubner to bleach and paint a cow skull, which turned out very well, and painted skulls have become a potentially lucrative sales item for Hubner. Her painted skulls are available for the first time this summer at Artists on Main in Ennis, and an Arizona art gallery has placed an order for several skulls.

Hubner continues to salvage for old furniture and decorate it with her distinctive art. "I started a business," she said. "Dumpster Diving Cowgirl is what I call it. It's in memory of my grandpa. He and I always used to go to the dump and dumpster dive. When he passed away, I kind of wanted to keep that going. So, I find old furniture at the dump and I fix it up and paint it and sell it."

Hubner's Western artwork often features genuine Montana livestock brands. "The brands are basically my trademark," she said. "Both of them are registered in the State of Montana. The Y-S-Bar brand, I inherited that from my great-grandpa. Their old homestead is right across the street. The old Hay Camp place, that's my family's original ranch. I also have the K-Bar-Heart, which goes on the shoulder, and I brand all my actual horses with that."

As her art career begins to provide extra income, Hubner continues to work as a hairdresser and a production assistant at Willie's Distillery in Ennis. With two other jobs, she still finds time to create beautiful art. "It's usually over morning coffee or late at night," she said.

Hubner is the daughter of Mick and Suzanne Hubner, of Ennis.

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