Catherine Buck, veterinarian and artist, melds two passions

"Barn Owl" watercolor pencil. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Throughout her life Catherine “Betsy” Buck has sustained two passions – animals and art. Recently, she has managed to combine the two, and her skilled sketches, currently on display at the Vineyard Haven Mocha Mott’s are a testament to her lifelong devotion to both interests.

Originally an art student, Ms. Buck eventually spent 12 years as a veterinarian. Now, taking a break from veterinary medicine, she is devoting herself to creating renderings of animals – both wildlife and pets. “When I was younger I did it all the time,” she says of her work as an artist. “I kept drawing over the years but did less as I got busier.”

Ms. Buck grew up between Philadelphia and Kansas. As a young girl she had a variety of pets, rode horses, and was very interested in nature, anatomy and biology. She also loved to draw. The two interests were first united when Ms. Buck had the opportunity to sketch at the workplace of her scientist father, who conducted research in cell biology at a facility on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

“As a kid I spent time in an anatomy museum – the Wister Institute in Philadelphia. Drawing animals and animal skeletons, I was learning some of that science and anatomy then.”

Ms. Buck went on to study fine art at Bard College in upstate New York. Although she now focuses on sketches and watercolors, Ms. Buck says that as an art student she mostly worked in oils She experimented in abstract and surrealist styles and also continued sketching the fantasy subjects that had engaged her as a teenager.

Eventually Ms. Buck’s career path diverged from the art world. “After college I moved into the sciences. I worked in a lab for three years doing histology, molecular and cell biology. We were. Studying heart development in mice embryos.”

From there she went on to the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and began private practice as a vet. In 2005 she moved to the Vineyard and took a job with the Vineyard Veterinary Clinic where she worked up until August of last year. In 2011 she married Bill Bridwell whose uncle Norman Bridwell is the creator of the popular Clifford the Big Red Dog series of books.

The drawings on display at Mocha Mott’s represent Ms. Buck’s first showing since her college years. The retrospective includes work from the many phases of her life as an artist. On one wall are a few of the artist’s drawings of mythological beasts from her high school days. There are elaborate pen and ink sketches of a dragon and a wonderfully detailed phoenix, as well as a fantastical demon done in ballpoint pen and a sparely drawn hyena.

The opposite wall traces later works in chronological order, beginning with a colored pencil dragon. There is a pen and ink horse that Ms. Buck completed in college, a mouse embryo from her days at the lab and a few wildlife sketches in pen or pencil. Work done during the veterinarian years includes a hand colored sketch of a German shepherd in profile and a wonderful barn owl done with watercolor pencil and featuring simple lines and subtle color.

More recent works include some remarkable likenesses of birds done in pen and ink, a charming watercolor pencil rendering of a Portuguese water dog and a colorful creek bed scene that Ms. Buck drew from a photograph by her husband.

Mr. Bridwell, who is the property manager for the Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary in Edgartown, is an amateur photographer who focuses on scenes in nature. It seems as if he, like his wife, has managed to mine inspiration from his work. Mr. Bridwell will be showing his photos at the Oak Bluffs Mocha Mott’s in March.

Work by Catherine Buck on display at Mocha Mott’s Vineyard Haven through February 1. Prices range from $15 for unframed prints to $65 for a framed print of one of the dog portraits. Ms. Buck will also accept commissions for animal portraits. You can reach her at 508-939-0558.