Eye on Art: The Challenge at True North Farm

Photo collage | Vincent Bono Following her true north, Adamstown resident Liz Holm is artist, equestrian and farmer.

Photo collage | Vincent Bono
Following her true north, Adamstown resident Liz Holm is
artist, equestrian and farmer.

The Urban Dictionary writes that a Renaissance woman can mix the knowledge of what are considered disparate spheres into a new whole. Treading lightly with that term, it nevertheless personifies the Adamstown artist, horse woman and farm owner Liz Holm. An illness and search for an active healing environment led her to purchase the 34-acre alpaca farm on Buckeystown Pike and convert it into her personal paradise. Following a career in the corporate world, unusual odd jobs, nursing ailing parents and fox chasing, Holm came to True North Farm to make her mark.

“I always wanted to live in the country, and I started looking for a little farm. There were many small ones far from Frederick, some in isolation away from friends in Frederick and Montgomery counties,” she recalled. She had driven by the Buckeystown Pike farm before, and she finally ventured into an open house in 2017. “I went to the barn first and saw some views and was captivated. When I saw the views from every window, something clicked,” she said.

She knew the farm would be a challenge, but she told herself, “I can do this!”

Holm’s story is one of living life to the fullest—tackling obstacles, trying new things, heartaches, renewal. She holds degrees in English and art history and was originally a painter. “I used to sit as a child and look through all of my parents’ art books.” When she was a child growing up in Silver Spring, her photographer father instilled in her the idea of a solid career. He stressed, “You can’t make a living as a painter,” Holm said.

Still, she modeled for portrait classes at George Washington University in exchange for art classes, training as a classical realist and then switching to abstract. “Balance, design, movement—all of the formal elements still need to be there for successful abstract painting,” she noted.

She worked in production management and promotion for 12 years before leaving the corporate world. A variety of side jobs came along—caterer, florist, sailing instructor delivering a sailboat from Venezuela to Norfolk. “I did multiple things, felt like I was living my life in reverse but loved the freedom of being outside and setting my own schedule,” she said.

Teaching drawing and watercolor at Montgomery College and design and drawing at Frederick Community College, her art career took flight as she moved to Frederick. She focused on mural painting and commissions while attending local art shows and selling her work online.

In 2003, Holm was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was a rough period—I was sick, getting chemo and running a business,” she recalled. Several years prior, her mother had moved in with her. In 2006, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she began caring for her full time. “Of all the things I’ve ever done, caring for Mom was the hardest,” she said. In 2014, she found her breast cancer had metastasized to the bone. Living with pain and frequently exhausted, she searched for something physical to relieve the stress.

An artist friend who had taken riding lessons in Middletown suggested she give it a try. It was therapeutic, physically active and involved animals. But learning to ride in her 50s presented challenges. The physical aspects make it tougher, she said, depending upon the kind of riding. Alertness, learning how to ride a spook, a bolt, a rear up, understanding and caring for a large animal are all factors. Maintaining core strength and balance are vital, and she strength trains to stay flexible.

Lessons started with indoor riding and eventually led to the purchase of her first horse. She quickly developed a connection with Laya, an Irish draft. She was all the things others had advised her against when looking to become a horse owner—don’t get anything with draft in the name, a red head, a mare or the first one you see. “I broke all the rules and bought her!” she said.

Following a spook mishap in the arena, Holm broke her back and was down for eight weeks. It made her decide to upgrade her skills and work with a new trainer, who continues to assist her today. She began trail riding and groundwork and eventually discovered an interest in fox chasing with the New Market/Middletown Valley Hounds. Her second horse, Lark, a female from Pennsylvania, allowed her to hunt twice a week, trading off with the two horses. She bought a third horse, a smaller thoroughbred called River, from a huntmaster and another called Patriot.

“Projects keep me busy and learning about the farm. I’m building a mudroom for the animals—three adopted foxhounds and two other dogs—and an art studio,” she said.

Pasture preparation for the horses continues, as does working to refurbish the other half of the barn for possible rental.

There is a mini orchard to maintain and a lot of landscaping. She is also researching the possibility of developing an Airbnb for horse people who travel to local events.

A new endeavor is chickens. She recently acquired a mix of different breeds that are hearty in cold and heat and friendly. For the first 11 weeks, she converted her den with heating sources and now they have been transferred to a coop outside.

Holm continues to sell her art primarily online while she works on setting up a proper studio.

“The important thing is to live—I could sit and wait, but I want to make the most of every day. I have beauty. I have animals. The cancer crystallizes this for me. I, we, need to make the most of every day.”

You can view Holm’s art on lizholm.blogspot.com.

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