By Erika Aldrich
They say the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and in Central Florida that usually means you have cattle ranching in your DNA. That’s true for Kayla and her father Waters, but it also means the cattle ranch finds its way into their artistic expressions. Mr. Waters runs cow-calf operations in three separate Florida counties and paints a pastoral scrubland or a massive Brahman whenever he gets the notion.
His daughter, Kayla, runs her own offshoot of the family cattle ranch with her husband and children, and finds time in between being a cattlewoman, wife, and mother to refinish furniture, usually incorporating themes and visuals from the ranch. Explore the artwork and passions of this duo who see beauty and inspiration in the ag way of life and put that love into their creative endeavors.
Roots in Agriculture
Like many Florida cattle families, the Waters family’s roots in cattle ranching are deep. Ned shared that “our family has been in Polk county since before the Civil War. They came to Florida in 1820, so they were here before it was a state. They lived within five miles of where we live now.“
Like many early pioneering families, they raised cattle; and like many of those families, they passed down the traditions of cattle ranching to the next generation. Ned maintained that his family “always had cattle, so we grew up knowing that’s something we would do—raise cattle.”
It’s a tradition that has been passed down to Kayla and her siblings. “We have cattle in Osceola, Polk, and Hardie counties,” Ned Waters shared. “It’s family-owned, all three of our girls and their families have cattle with us.” Kayla fondly recalls both her ranching childhood and her father’s artistry. “I grew up on my family’s cattle ranch and my dad was always artistic and painted wildlife andcattle scenes. He wanted to get me into art lessons but of course I was a stubborn teenager and wouldn’t go!”
Ned’s go-to medium is acrylic paint on canvas, and he paints those things around him. “It’s all Florida,” he said of his art. “It’s cowboys and wildlife, and landscapes of Florida; it’s all things around here.” Ned’s paintings have found homes far and wide, from his own home and the homes of his daughters, to museums, agritourism venues, in the Florida capitol building, and even out in Nevada, helping to set the right mood at the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko.
Finding an Artistic Passion
Kayla maintained that she originally thought that being an ag educator might suit her, but she eventually turned on cosmetology before starting a family. She shared that it was just after she and her husband built their first home that she turned to furniture refurbishing, or what she calls ‘flippin’ furniture on the farm.’
“My dad and my husband love natural wood, so most of our home is pine and cypress,” she explained. “I am not a huge fan of natural wood and love bright colors and patterns. I decided that I would just fill the house with bright colored furniture and decor. I quickly figured out that it’s hard to find turquoise and serape painted furniture and that it is way out of my budget!” Home with two young children, she one day decided to refurbish an old desk her husband had brought home, painting it in her favorite turquoise. “I put it up for sale on my Facebook page and it sold immediately for asking price,” Kayla shared.
Kayla continued to paint furniture her husband brought home. He “would come home with new pieces every week,” she said, “and I began painting our own furniture as well as pieces to sell and make a little extra money. I absolutely loved painting while the kids were napping and felt like it gave me my sanity back.”
Kayla refined both her choice of paints and her style, putting her cowgirl roots into her pieces. “I started painting more of “my style” and surprisingly people loved it!” Kayla explained. “I get a lot of my inspiration from western fashion, so I do a lot of turquoise, cowhide upholstery, and leopard print. I also have a paint that contains metal and actually rusts, so I incorporate that into a lot of my pieces.”
Kayla saw so much success with flipping furniture that she started a Facebook page—Whippoorwill Customs, after the name of her parent’s wedding venue at the headquarters of their cattle ranch. From there, her hobby really took off. “About a year ago, Dixie Belle paint company approached me about being a Brand Ambassador for them. I was floored!” Kayla gushed. “What this means is I get to test out their new products before they’re released, my work is published on their website and in their catalogs, I get to do video tutorials for their 150,000+ followers and am currently working on being published in a national magazine. This has been a game changer for my business.”
The Future of Cattle and Art
The future holds a lot of promise for both Ned and Kayla’s artistic endeavors, but one event that needs to be in the works is a compilation between father and daughter. “I would love to do that,” Ned shared, “maybe one day we will.” Kayla is in agreement all the way. “We have talked about me refinishing a piece of furniture and him painting a scene on it,” she explained.
Kayla also uncovered the fact that art can bring strangers together, as well as family. “I am hoping to use my platform to shed some positive light on the cattle industry and farming in general,” she shared. “Any time I post a picture of furniture with a cow or baby goat, people love it and it starts a conversation.”