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Art Alliance of Littleton

Featured Artist Story for March 2006


By: Tracy Aiello

Littleton resident Francesca Owens is an Italian artist. The subjects,
however, of her watercolor and relief pieces harken from a place very far from
Italy, and very far from her Littleton home. The pieces that have won Owens
her latest fame are Siberian tigers, being saved from poaching in the snowy
forests of the Russian Far East to the steamy jungles of Sumatra.

Heralded as an animal rights activist and wildlife painter, Francesca doesn't
describe herself as either, instead this internationally acclaimed artist was
"following her passion".

A former financial planner, Owens chucked it all to become an artist just a few short years ago. Exploring her love for contrast and color, she became fascinated with creatures like the Bengal tiger (as well as zebras and giraffes) and created a series of striking watercolors as her first pubic show.

What started as the perfect theme to display her chosen medium, catapulted Owens to the international spotlight, and served as the visual symbol for a multi-million dollar effort against poaching.

“I didn’t set out to make a political statement, notes Owens, “the tiger was the perfect expression of color and contrast.”

The work attracted the attention of Donald D. Humphreys, an executive with the ExxonMobil Foundation, one of the sponsoring organizations of the “Save the Tiger Fund”.

The group launched in 1995 with the goal of saving tigers from an almost assured extinction. Since then the group has supported projects in 13 out of the 14 tiger range countries, and raised millions corporations, non-profits and schoolchildren throughout the world.

Working with Save the Tiger, Owens uncovered a compelling story that inspired the next of her tiger endeavors; a study entitled “Did I Die in Vain?”

In 2005, Owens heard the story of John Goodrich, a New Yorker turned Coloradoan whose passion for the soon-to-be-extinct Siberian tiger led him to Russia. As the coordinator of the WCS Siberian Tiber Project, Goodrich and his team were in the field when they heard a tiger’s roar among the dense Russian forest. Following the sounds, they came upon a 385-pound Siberian tiger caught in a snare set to keep the carnivore from killing nearby livestock. They rescued the tiger, nursed him back to health and eventually released him back into the wild.

“Victor”, as the tiger became known is now immortalized in a nine-piece series. Owens describes, in vivid black and white relief, the many threats to the species –traditional Asian medicine, smuggling, tiger farming, poaching, the shrinking of habitat, and organized crime. While sobering, the series ends with a representation of “Victor’s” emancipation. The piece called “Release” shows the animal jumping to freedom from the back of the WCS team’s Land Rover. The series is featured on, where Owens is credited with “tak(ing) action the way she knows best, with her brush.” While Francesca is surprised by the “advocate” moniker, she is no stranger to environmental protection.

As Francesca describes it, she saw a peek at her passion in the early 2000’s, when a Blue Heron nesting site in her Littleton neighborhood was being shopped by a developer. Owens joined the Bowles Metro District Board to advocate for the precious piece of land and the precious birds it housed.

After a drawn out battle, Owens negotiated a deal, and site is now the Isthmus Nature Park and Learning Gardens, a nature preserve and educational park dedicated to the protection of several valuable species, including blue herons
and bald eagles. Not just the herons thanked her; she was named the Special District Association’s Board Member of the Year in 2003.

It might seem that Owens would have rekindled her artistic passion on a trip to Siberia, or Nepal, or Senegal. Instead, Italy was the site of Owens' decision to become a full time artist. A second generation American, Francesca’s first trip to Italy was a trip to see cousins in 1996. There, among the close-knit community of farmers, Francesca’s artistic flame was reignited.

“The community is so warm and welcoming, and the landscape so beautiful. The combination allowed me to explore a longtime love of art, and gave me the confidence to create,” she noted.

Her return back to the U.S. brought upon “reverse culture shock”, but art kept the connection alive.

She has made many trips back since then, and caught the eye of Italian art critic – Edo Barzagli - while studying at the Lorenzo Di’Medici Art institute in Florence. He notes the “remarkable richness” of her paintings and has since showcased “Tiger Gaze” and other Owens works in the gallery.

With critical acclaim, Owens has found an Italian following, and has just recently been commissioned by an Italian executive to paint a large scale“Tiger” for the woman’s Roman home.

The attention pushes Owens one step closer to her dream. She hopes to one day split her time between Italy and the U.S.

“When I am in Italy, I am home,” she notes.

The divorced mother of two will soon be living “Under the Tuscan Sun”, following her showing in Cortona – the setting for the famous book cum movie– she’ll spend the summer painting the Tuscan countryside and teaching in nearby Austria at the Styrian International’s 2006 Summer Art Festival in Graz, Austria.

The accolades surprise Owens, but she recognizes the synchronicity in her story. Her grandmother came to the U.S. in 1920 from the little town that now screams out “The American is here”, upon Francesca’s arrival. Her mother
was born in the Bronx and despite her short life (she died when Francesca was just 24), she too was an artist.

Hung prominently in Owens’ home and studio is a tribute to her mother, her mother’s art and her heritage.

“My newest endeavor is a series of Italian landscapes,” notes Owens. “In part it is a repayment of the debt I owe to my family, my heritage, and my culture.

Interested art lovers don’t have to travel all the way to Italy, however, to see Francesca’s art. Her pieces are showcased right here at Willow: An Artisan’s Market located in Littleton and at the Wilson Adams Gallery, in Denver. Upon arriving home from her four-month jog in Italy, Francesca’s art will appear in a joint show at the Curtis Arts and Humanities Center in Greenwood Village. The show, called “From Davinci” will run from October 14 through November 11, 2006 and feature Italian artists from around the world.

Francesca can be reached at and her portfolio can be viewed at


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