John Leo Baker was born in McKees Rocks, PA on March 27, 1927, to Theresa and Nicholas Baker. He was the seventh out of nine children. His family owned and operated The Seven Baker Brothers Bakery in the West End of Pittsburgh. When John was twelve, his mother enrolled him in St. Joseph’s School of Practical and Fine Arts of East Liberty, Pittsburgh. On Saturdays, he traveled by trolley and bus to East Liberty from McKees Rocks.
In 1946 he received honorable discharge from the army and became a free-lance artist. He enrolled in classes at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and worked with Jan de Rosen, a well-known European painter. Some of John’s local tributes are Duquesne Chapel, St. Columbkille in Imperial, Sacred Heart Church in Pittsburgh, and the statues at Ascension Church in Ingram. He also traveled & studied in France, Italy, and Spain, all the while creating his artwork.
After returning from Europe, John married Nancy Ducci in November of 1952. They had seven children, and sixteen grandchildren, who all settled within three miles of his Ara-Appaloosa Horse Farm, Vitriak Hydaway, located in Hickory, PA. John had a strong connection with horses that started in his youth and stayed with him his entire life. He co-founded the Ara-Appaloosa & Foundation Breeders International which crossed bloodlines of Appaloosa’s with Arabian heritage. He bred, raised, trained & sold hundreds of horses across the United States that were used for breeding, endurance competition, horse shows & pleasure riding.
John had several passions in life, his family, his religion, his art, and his horses. He was self-employed for forty-eight years. Making money or fame did not drive him; he let his passions guide him through his day-to-day life. He continued to paint and ride horses until he was seventy-three years old. In August 2000, John sustained a head injury, which ended his career as an artist and horseman. He died on March 2, 2005, and his final resting place is at the Baker Family Cemetery, which sits atop his farm.