Debra Higgs remembers the first time she rolled into Prineville and caught a glimpse of the more than century-old Crook County Courthouse.
Having spent a lifetime as a professional artist who has painted numerous landscapes and architectural marvels, she was captivated by the community centerpiece and announced to her daughter and Prineville native that she had found her latest muse.
"I told her I'm going to paint this courthouse. It is so beautiful," she gushed. "This is something I have to do."
Higgs first put brush to canvas more than 45 years ago as a 17-year-old high school student in Torrance, California. She painted a snow scene, she recalls, with "beautiful mountains, a beautiful sky and little rabbit trails in the snow."
The simple little painting, as she puts it, sold for $250.
"At the time, it felt like a million dollars to me," Higgs remarked.
Hooked, she signed up for some professional classes, but it turned out she didn't need a lot of education when it came to painting.
"The instructor asked to leave the class," she recalls. "He took me aside and said, 'Deb, you are actually painting better than me right now.'"
Thus began a four-decade career during which Higgs, now 63, has painted "anything and everything" and sold between 200 and 250 paintings. She said she is especially partial to recreating landscapes and architectural buildings.
She also loves a challenge, which heightened her interest in painting the courthouse.
"I knew it was going to be a challenge because of all of the detail," she said.
So shortly after her May 2016 arrival in Prineville, Higgs went to work on a labor of love that would take roughly 75 hours and several tiny little paintbrushes to complete.
Higgs prefers to paint in her home where natural light is plentiful.
"In my home, I have a lot of windows. I just set up my easel and my canvas and I have all of the natural light that I can use," she said. "I work with music – sometimes classical, sometimes country. It just depends on what mood I am in."
Once the courthouse painting was done, Higgs showed it to friends and family, and she was continually urged to share it in a more public fashion.
"Everyone kept telling me you have to do something with this painting," she said. "I realized I wanted to present it to the county."
Higgs made an appointment with Crook County Judge Seth Crawford and brought the painting in to share. Like others, he was impressed with the piece and told her he wanted to display it in the courthouse right away.
The painting recently arrived at its new home, hung on a wall of the courthouse's second floor just around the corner from the building's massive front doors.
"Everybody who has seen it has been really impressed," Crawford said. "It is really exciting to have people in the community who love the courthouse so much that they are willing to give of their own time."
Higgs said she was very happy and a bit overwhelmed by the response she received when she gave the painting to county officials.
"I teared up a little bit," she admits.
Her work now on public display, Higgs is hoping that her efforts will inspire other local artists to reach out and share their own inspirations and projects.
"I think that would be great," she said.