An artist since high school, Danielle Silvanic has painted on all manner of canvases through the years, most in the usual geometric shapes. This particular project, however, presented some unique challenges.
It was a cow, and a good-sized one at that: 7½ feet long and 4½ feet tall.
But unlike your typical New York state dairy cow, the life-size fiberglass sculpture weighed only 100 pounds or so, about a tenth of an actual bovine. The decorated cow — one of two created for the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition’s #DiscoverNYDairy initiative — has been traveling around the state in advance of the Great New York State Fair, to educate New Yorkers about all things dairy.
Silvanic and Fayetteville-Manlius High School art teacher Katie Gabriel were selected for the project through a lengthy competitive process that required more documentation than the average job application, the rising Binghamton University senior said. She learned about the opportunity through her aunt, a large animal veterinarian.
“This project wasn’t something I’d normally do, but it was for a great cause and I truly believe it is important for people to know where their food is coming from,” she said.
A biological sciences major, Silvanic fell in love with watercolor painting while attending Chenango Forks High School, and kept it up largely as a hobby. Meanwhile, her academic journey took a long and twisting path, starting at Clarkson University, where she majored in mechanical engineering.
After several interviews for engineering internships, she realized that she wanted life outside a cubicle and came home, enrolling at SUNY Broome while she figured out her new path. After a semester off, she applied to Binghamton and switched to biological sciences — as fate would have it, just before the pandemic hit and shifted classes online.
A farmer’s work
Some of her favorite childhood memories are of her grandparent’s upstate New York dairy farm. In high school, she was also involved in the Junior Dairy Leader Program through Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which gave her the opportunity to travel to dairy farms all over the country.
Rendered in acrylic, the painted scenes on the cow draw their inspiration from her experiences on her grandparents’ farm.
One side features the different tasks on a dairy farm. Farming is an “all-day, every-day” job, she pointed out; the cows are milked two to three times a day, and farmers also work around the clock to make sure the animals and facilities are in top-notch condition, from fixing machinery to feeding the herd and cleaning.
The other side features the end result of that labor: the dairy products found at home, the grocery store and the local ice cream shop.
“I had a general idea of what I wanted to do before I started: I did both scenes first and then I worked on keeping the integrity of the animal by adding the light pink of the udder, ears and nose, and then by adding spots to replicate the cowhide of a Holstein,” she explained.
During her next two semesters at Binghamton, Silvanic is looking forward to forging more personal connections, both in the classroom and on the club sport rowing and rugby teams. Right now, she’s not entirely sure what she will do post-graduation, but appreciates the wide range of opportunities that a biological sciences major affords: becoming a nurse, a marine biology researcher or a teacher, to name just a few.
“I want to travel and wake up every day excited to do my job. What might that be? I’m not sure yet, but I am going to try my best to be someone I am proud of and to give back to my community,” she said.