Brush with Fame
Terrier Project Inspires a Town, Raises Funds for Art EducationHer name is Poppy Love. She’s a fiberglass West Highland white terrier covered with brightly painted poppies who spent the summer in front of the Balise Mazda dealership on Riverdale Street in West Springfield.
Another oversized dog from her litter, Dr. Hairy Barker, has spent his summer stationed outside of a veterinarian’s office dressed in a white lab coat, while his pal, Tooth Tari, guards a dentist’s office.
These 36-pound fiberglass canines are among the 46 so-called terriers around town that comprise the first public art project in West Springfield’s history.
The dogs, which will be auctioned off next month, were bolted to concrete slabs and stationed throughout the town during the summer. They have generated so much interest that untold numbers of people keep track of their whereabouts, post online photos taken with them, collect memorabilia emblazoned with their portraits, and share stories created about them by adoring admirers.
“The public has become so possessive of them,” said artist Jane Barrientos, who conceived the idea for Terriers Around Town and brought it to life with West Springfield resident and hair sylist Christine Costani.
To date, the dogs’ lives are being followed by more than 1,000 Facebook fans, who have written interesting tales about each of them based on the theme the artist chose for the dog. One chronicles the ongoing romance between Dapper Dog, who sits in front of Lattitude Restaurant on Memorial Avenue, and Maria Margarita of Mardi Gras, who makes her home at Gate 2 at the Big E Exposition grounds.
The goal behind the fanciful community-arts project is to raise money for the Arts in Education program in West Springfield public schools. Barrientos and Costanzi both home-schooled their children, and believe students need more than academics to develop into well-rounded, responsible adults.
They modeled their project after other fiberglass art displays/auctions held across the country, showcasing cows, pigs, bears (Easthampton), and even sneakers (Springfield). “We decided to use the town mascot to increase awareness of our community pride, spirit, and respect, as well as to promote West Springfield as a destination for lovers of art,” said Costani.
To that end, many businesses have become involved with the exhibit, which has spawned numerous events, including a naked puppy party (before the artists went to work), a puppy parade, an auction preview party, and a gala charity auction that will be held Oct. 15 inside the new Balise Honda showroom on Riverdale Street. Tickets to the dressy affair are $75 and include food catered by Lattitude. “There will be a raw bar, two carving stations, and an open wine and beer bar,” Barrientos said.
Two dozen dogs have already been purchased by sponsors, but the 22 that remain will be auctioned off during the evening. Memorabilia, including magnets, coffee mugs, and a coffee-table book with photos of the dogs will also be sold. The goal is to raise $70,000, and Barrientos said they hope to reach it, since they have already made $10,000 from donations and the sale of gift items. However, they are still seeking donations for a raffle. For more information or tickets, visit www.terriersaround town.com or call Costani at (413) 233-7771.
Some of the dogs have already been removed from the spots they occupied all summer in preparation for the auction. But they all can be seen during the daily parade at the Big E on West Springfield Day, which will take place Sept. 20 at 5 p.m. They will sit on antique trucks while the artists who gave them personalities march beside them.
Barrientos and Costani were inspired to launch the art project after seeing the success that similar fiberglass outdoor art displays/auctions have generated. “Easthampton held a Bear Fest a year before us, Pittsfield used sheep, and Venice, Fla. had pigs,” Barrientos said, adding that Costani viewed that exhibit as well as one that featured fiberglass cows in Chicago.
The women began their campaign by soliciting design ideas from artists who expressed interest in painting a dog. They also knocked on doors and asked businesses to become sponsors.“We called on more than 200 businesses with School Committee member Pat Garbacik, who is also an artist,” Barrientos said.
Balise was the first to sign up. Vice President of Finance Michael DuBois said the project fit in perfectly with their philosophy of making charitable donations to causes that support children and education.
“This passed our litmus test, and (company President) Jeb Balise was very interested; we have a big footprint in West Springfield and a big stake here, so we feel a responsibility toward the community,” said DuBois, adding that the company’s collison center put a clear coat on all of the dogs after the artists finished painting them.
“One of our graphic artists designed a dog she called Copper that is wearing a [painted] police officer’s uniform,” he said, adding that Balise is delighted to host the auction in their new showroom.
Businesses that sponsored a dog were allowed to choose from more than 70 designs, as well as where their dog would be placed during the summer months.
“We constantly looked for connections,” Barrientos said, adding that many business people have discovered new resources via networking that has taken place at their events.
The women are amazed at the number of professionals who have lent their services to help. They include Atty. Simon Brighenti, who helped them navigate through the town’s regulations; CPA Nicholas LaPier; and Pete Morgan, who made the concrete slabs the dogs sat on, then spent six unpaid days with his employees working to position the dogs around town. United Bank served as a major sponsor of the project.
Parent-teacher organizations have also gotten involved, and 250 kindergartners and faculty members from John Ashley School put their thumbprints and names on a dog purchased for them by Kohls. It will be taken to the high school to sit on the lawn until the class graduates.
“This project will become part of the town’s history,” said Barrientos, adding that two families sponsored terriers, and a terrier tour map was created so people interested in the exhibit could find all of the dogs.
“There had never been a fiberglass terrier in the world before this,” Barrientos said. “Now, every one of our dogs has an amazing story, and so many people have connected with each as a result.”
Or, to put it simply, they have put their Poppy Love into action.