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Reflection: The artist in me emerges for animals

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 10, 2012 - I mentioned to the editor I work with at the Beacon that an interesting story existed in the Urban Wanderers exhibit at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, but I couldn't write it for a number of reason, including the fact that I have art in it. Write about that, she said; write about being an artist...

Before I begin my self-portrait as an artist, I must address the kind people who bid on a collage I created last year for the Urban Wanders exhibit and auction.

My message is simply this: There are no refunds.

We thank you for your kind generosity in 2011 when you won (dubious word choice, I know) my piece. We encourage you to visit this year’s Urban Wanderers exhibition, and I would love to meet you.

Now for the disclaimer: In the world of high art — or even low kitsch — I am not an artist. I love art. Alas, I have little (meaning no) formal training in creating it.

Prior to last year, the only work I fashioned and displayed other than my writing dates back to my wildly successful second-grade year at Rossman School. I was in my charcoal period then, and one of my rather whimsical renderings called Cat went on the block in a school fundraiser.

I have Cat sitting in my bedroom, some 40 years later, thanks to my persistent Uncle Bob (Harris). He won my masterpiece by announcing to his competitor that he was the artist’s uncle, and he was leaving with that drawing.

Since then, my career has gone underground. That is, until last year when my friend Dana Hinterleitner, a graphic designer and colleague at SLU, poked her head in my door.

She suggested that my daughter, Elise, create something for Urban Wanderers. Elise was in the throes of her bat mitzvah preparations, which included a service project. She wanted to work with art and animals. Through Urban Wanderers, she could put on a dog (if not a pony) show and meet both criteria.

So we gathered a small group of friends, including Terri Shay, SLU adjunct art professor, and created a series of pieces. Even I made one. It was a mixed media collage (that’s art speak for pencil, acrylic paint and magazine clippings).

I am proud that every piece sold. (OK, I bought one and so did a friend.) But the rest did go to people in the community. And of course, the proceeds went to Stray Rescue, a truly worthy no-kill animal rescue organization.

Fast-forward to spring 2012. Dana pops her head in my door. Stray Rescue is coming to SLUMA again, she reminds me. Is Elise interested in a repeat performance?

After much discussion Dana, Elise and I, along with my boyfriend, Jim Holzer, (a fine art photographer and artist) developed a series of three Mardi Gras masks framed for display. The idea was largely Dana’s.

She fashioned two of the masks based on drawings and discussions we had. Then, Jim and I made the third. From there, the masks were to be painted, glittered and bejeweled. Sounds simple enough, right?

Honestly, the vision does not always translate to paper or paper maché. That’s why the supplies must be plentiful. (It also helps to have a Tide stick, wipes and a well-stocked first-aid kit.)

Each mask became a lesson unto itself. We began with unadorned human mask shapes, which we paper machéd into the facial features of a cat. From there, Elise, Dana and I experimented with paint, and glitter, glue and beads.

That’s when I encountered that the hot glue gun is a hideous instrument of torture.

As I was loading a new stick of wax in one end, I became a bit pushy. Mistake. The gun punished me, breathing fiery liquid onto my pant leg. In a panic, I attempted to rescue my clothing with my bare fingers. Second mistake.

Hot glue guns are not for the naïve. Better to apply cold water — or better, ice — to the pant. I would have saved myself at least three blisters.

Nevertheless I did complete, if not master, the application, bedazzling the mask to its glittery denouement and then helped create the frames and mountings.

Confession: I still love any excuse to paint or cut paper or glue disparate elements together — even with a glue gun. Without question, I am a wannabe pressing my nose against the stained glass of the art world and loving it.

Epilogue: Moments ago, Dana texted me a picture of our three works hanging in a series in the exhibition. How apropos! Collectively, they are called One Man’s Trash . . .

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