Skip to main content

Animals in Art

The saying goes that “art imitates life”, and looking through some of the art we have in our archival collections, it gives us an idea of just how important animals are in the everyday lives of humans. Animals have made their way into human artistic expression for thousands of years; the oldest known artwork of an animal was created over 45,000 years ago in Indonesia, which was a drawing of a wild pig (Learn more from National Geographic). Local Oxford County artists are no exception when it comes to including animals in their art.


Springbank Snow Countess

The Springbank Snow Countess was arguably one of Oxford County’s most famous cows. She was bred by Thomas R. Dent, the owner of Springbank Farm where she was born in 1919. The Snow Countess became world famous for producing a record amount of dairy; she was the World Champion Lifetime Butterfat Producer until 1952. She was milked four times a day (the average cow is milked once or twice), and produced 12 gallons of milk per day. She had 14 calves throughout her life. She was also known for her friendship with a farm dog. According to a story printed in the Oxford Historical Society’s “Quizzical History” book, published in 2017, a Collie puppy was brought to the farm in 1932. The puppy, named Bob, was found cuddling with the cow one night in her stall. The pair were inseparable after that. Bob worked on the farm to round up and herd the cows from the pasture into the barn for milking. When The Springbank Snow Countess died in 1936, Bob was present at her funeral and was said to have laid down on her grave after the ceremony. He refused to move from the grave, even for food, and sadly passed away on the grave a short while later.

A statue honouring The Springbank Snow Countess was unveiled on the Springbank Farm on August 4, 1937. It was erected by the Canadian Holstein-Friesian Association and designed with the assistance of local agricultural artist Ross Butler. The statue is made of bell metal and lead. It was relocated to the northwest corner of Dundas Street and Springbank Avenue in 2006.


Ross Butler

One notable Oxford County artist who featured animals in his work was Ross Butler, a world-renowned agricultural artist. Butler was born on a farm near Norwich, Ontario in 1907. His career in art began at a young age and he was self-taught, inspired by the animals around him on the farm. In 1927 he moved from his family’s farm and made Woodstock, Ontario his home, which would be his home for the rest of his life. He eventually sold his agricultural art pieces to the Holstein-Friesian Society, which led to him being commissioned in 1937 by the Department of Agriculture to paint every dairy breed, beef breed, and draft horse in Canada for educational use in schools. Eventually, Butler worked on creating butter sculptures as well. In 1952 he created a life-size butter sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II on horseback for the Canadian National Exhibition. The sculpture made him famous internationally and, as a result, he was invited to England for the Queen’s coronation. Butler passed away in 1995 and was inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1997. Ross Butler’s son David now curates the Ross Butler Gallery in Woodstock, Ontario. More information on the gallery can be found online here.


Herbert Milnes

Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, Herbert Milnes arrived in Canada in 1928. He worked at La France Textiles in Woodstock, Ontario, for more than 40 years until his retirement in 1970 when he became curator of the Oxford Museum. Milnes was also known as a passionate naturalist. In 1934, he helped found the Woodstock Field Naturalist Society and was elected its first President. The group was quickly affiliated with the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and they held their first regional gathering in 1937 at Downey Wood and Sweaburg Swamp Area. Throughout his lifetime, he wrote observational field notes on the flora and fauna (specifically birds, snakes, and turtles) that lived and grew in the natural environments around Oxford County. He also captured their images in beautiful life-like watercolour, and pen and ink sketches which were often exhibited at the museum and elsewhere.

Milnes passed away in 1980 at the age of 74 but many of his naturalist art pieces and notes are currently stored and preserved in the Archives for future generations of researchers. Some of Milnes’s artwork can be seen in the photo slideshow below.



Visual art isn’t the only art medium that features animals. In the Archives, we have a number of poetry books written and published by poets who once called or still call Oxford County home. Nature is often used for inspiration in art, and poetry is no exception. Below is a selection of poems written by local authors that feature animals in their content:


The Geese by Gertrude MacGregor Moffat.

“So do the geese go by on the ground,

One in the lead, and all in file;

Tame grey geese, that go on the ground,

Under the hedge and through the stile!

So do the geese go by in the night,

One in the lead, and two arms spread;

Brave wild geese that pass in the night,

Under the stars, and over our head!”

Printed in “A Book of Verses”. Toronto: MacMillan Co. of Canada Ltd., at St. Martin’s House (1924), pg. 37.


The Beech-Nut Gatherer by Pamelia S. Yule (nee Vining)

“All over the earth like a mantle,

Golden, green, and grey,

Crimson, and scarlet, and yellow,

The Autumn foliage lay; -

The sun of the Indian Summer

Laughed at the bare old trees

As they shook their leafless branches

In the soft October breeze.


Gorgeous was every hill-side,

And gorgeous every nook,

And the dry, old log was gorgeous,

Spanning the little brook;

Its holiday robes, the forest

Had suddenly cast to earth,

And, as yet, seemed scarce to miss them,

In its plenitude of mirth.


I walked where the leaves the softest,

The brightest, and goldenest lay;

And I thought of a forest hill-side,

And an Indian Summer Day, -

Of an eager, little child-face

O’er the fallen leaves that bent,

As she gathered her cup of beech-nuts

With innocent content.


I thought of the small, brown fingers

Gleaning them one by one,

With the partridge drumming near her

In the forest bare and dun,

And the jet-black squirrel, winking

His saucy, jealous eye

At those tiny, pilfering fingers,

From his sly nook up on high.


Ah, barefooted little maiden!

With thy bonnetless, sun-burnt brow,

Thou glean’st no more on the hill-side –

Where art thou gleaning now?

I knew by the lifted glances

Of thy dark, imperious eye,

That the tall tree bending o’er thee

Would not shelter thee by and by.


The cottage by the brookside,

With its mossy roof is gone; -

The cattle have left the uplands,

The young lambs left the lawn; -

Gone are thy blue-eyed sister,

And thy brother’s laughing brow;

And the beech-nuts lie ungathered

On the lonely hill-side now.


What have the returning seasons

Brought to thy heart since then,

In thy long and weary wand’rings

In the paths of busy men? –

Has the Angel of grief, or of gladness,

Set his seal upon thy brow?

Maiden, joyous or tearful,

Where art thou gleaning now?”

Printed in “Poems of the Heart and Home”. Toronto: Bengough, Moore & Co., Printers and Publishers (1881), pg. 9.


The Canadian Horse by James McIntyre “The Cheese Poet”.

“The fame of the Canadian Horse,

It is heard on many a course,

For it has won oft in the race,

And renowned for graceful pace.


Great change from the Indian pony,

Who in old times was the only

Horse that you could drive or ride,

Now you have the powerful Clyde.


‘Tis true that he is rather slow,

But deep he plows so you may sow,

And over any kind of road

He will pull a mighty load.


Of brutes the horse doth lead the van,

And he is the best friend of man;

Well trained, so gentle and so kind,

And next he ranks to man in mind.”

Printed in “Poems of James McIntyre”. Ingersoll: The Office of the Chronicle (1889), pg. 219.


Colarvaldy’s Stump Fenced Farm Lane by Thomas F. Williams, 1979.

“The old farm lane I once called mine,

Between the ‘Hardwood and the Pine’;

Pine stump roots on either side,

Roots toward roots; a Stumper’s pride;

Horse high, Bull strong and Boar-hog tight:

Once a common West Oxford sight.

Huge rocks moved with boat and chains;

Long since etched with lover’s names.

Virgin, the soil that no plow knew;

Flora that only such old land grew.

Hollows in stumps where rodents nest;

Trees of kinds the birds like best.

Many a woodchuck finds a home,

Forced from fields where tractors roam.


Pine stumps, themselves, are poems in form.

In their roots the chemistry of Life is born.

To me, a tree has identity,

Its roots being where its brain must be,

Converting seeds so very small

To giant Pines that top them all;

Remembers the Season’s peculiar needs,

Finds the things upon which it feeds;

Supplies the forces that stable the trees,

While moving the sap from the ground to the leaves.

Featureless fields are producing good food

Where few can imagine the great trees stood.”

Printed in “Poems and Prose: 1966-1979”. Published by Thomas F. Williams (1979), pg. 27.