Council gives nod to animal art

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County: More than $20,000 will be spent on the shelter project

By Arin McKenna

The Los Alamos Animal Shelter will soon welcome visitors with some bright and whimsical artwork.


Tuesday, the Los Alamos County Council unanimously approved commissions for interior and exterior art recommended by the Art in Public Places Advisory Board.

This was the board’s second attempt to win approval for its choice of artwork at the shelter. In October 2011, the board recommended two mixed media dogs by artist Geoffrey Gorman. Council rejected the proposal, mainly because no attempt had been made to seek out other artists and because no images of cats were offered.

The board went back to basics, issuing a Request for Proposals in February.

“We got a lot of really great proposals, both for interior and exterior art, so it was very difficult to decide,” current Chair Carolyn Bossert said.

The board displayed posters of the proposals at meetings and locations such as the Animal Shelter and solicited public opinion, which they incorporated into their choice.

“There was kind of a consensus, even though it was a real tough decision,” Bossert said.

The commission for exterior art will be awarded to sculptor Carrie Quade and Los Alamos artist Melissa Bartlett will provide acrylic paintings for the interior.

Council approved up to $20,000 for Quade’s work ($8,500 for the sculpture and the balance for installation) and $3,500 for four pieces by Bartlett.

Quade’s bronze relief sculpture will depict silhouettes of kittens and puppies playing on the shelter roof. The figures will be backlit at night.

“It’s basically letting people know visually the purpose of that building. As you drive by it, it’s really nondescript. You can’t really tell what’s supposed to be happening there,” Quade said. “I wanted to be able to catch someone’s eye with those familiar puppy/kitten shapes. If you have kittens and puppies running along the roofline, you have a better guess about what that building’s purpose might be.

The commission includes a large bronze relief of a dog on the grounds below, jumping up on its hind legs to bark at the figures on the roof.

“I expect people to smile. I think it will be light, I think it visually communicates kind of a playful, fun attitude,” Quade said.

The installation of Quade’s work presents some special challenges.

“It is very complicated, because it is a new building. There are warranties on the roof and there are certain special membranes that are in there,” Quade said. There were also concerns that high winds could knock the sculpture from the roof.

Shidoni Foundry (which will also cast the bronzes) and a structural engineer will install the piece and assure that it meets code and is structurally sound. Quade will also design some anchors into the piece, such as puppy paws or kitten tails coming over the side of the building.

Lighting the figure on the ground is also presenting some special challenges.

The board tried to anticipate all the installation costs before it went before council for approval.

“We didn’t want to come back later and say, we screwed up on the cost, can you add this to cover the installation. So we had to get the cost pretty tied down on what it was going to be,” Bossert said. “There’s some tricky stuff with it, but we felt for that specific site, it was worth it. And from the public comments on that particular piece, it was pretty well received. So I’m glad we went that extra step to make it work.”

“I’m delighted, absolutely delighted, because I really love to do animals,” Quade said. “I do mostly pigs, but puppies and kittens — they’re the best, because of being able to put that type of expression into the work, so that even far away, someone is able to feel the attitude. I would like to do more animal shelters and animal hospitals.”

Bartlett’s original proposal was for two large stretched canvas panels, one, titled “Kitten Caboodle” other titled “Puppy Love.”

The board took one resident’s suggestion and asked Bartlett to provide smaller paintings to identify the doors to the dog and cat kennels. They also asked her to adjust the large panels to fit behind the front desk (Bartlett had originally proposed an alternate location), after arranging with shelter staff to move signage to accommodate the paintings.

In response to other comments, Bartlett will also adapt the work to be semi-realistic instead the more graphic style in her proposal.

Suggestions to paint the images as wall murals were rejected because of the challenges that would pose to cleaning or painting the walls.

“Basically, I want people to come in and see some type of slightly whimsical pictures of dogs and cats in a variety of breeds and types,” Bartlett said. “And to think of their furry friends as fun and give them an idea of the possibilities of adopting an animal that will be really fun to have.”

Bartlett plans to depict animals she has personally known.

Bartlett  has personal connections to the shelter, both through adopting her own pets and as a volunteer instructor for the Los Alamos Dog Obedience Club.

“I’m very honored to have been chosen for this commission. I certainly feel like it’s a rewarding and worthwhile institution and anything I can do to brighten the place up is a great pleasure.

“The shelter up here is just one of the best kept secrets in New Mexico in terms of the animal shelter world, because I think we have absolutely an excellent shelter with amazing staff and wonderful volunteers. It’s probably the best shelter in the state by far, in terms of the work they do, the number of animals they place and the time and energy that gets put into the animals so their needs are being met well there at the shelter.

“So I’m glad to be a part of that. I’m glad to put a smile on the faces of the people coming in. hopefully it will put them in a good frame of mind so they’ll consider that poor little kitty in the corner. “

APPAB’s next large project is the second installment in the historical sculpture series. The board has just completed an RFP for sculptures of Norris Bradbury and his wife Lois for outside the new municipal building.