Animals are such an important part of my life, and I know many people share my beliefs that we have much to learn from them. I feel privileged as an artist to have been able to portray some very special animals and have gotten to know some very special people in the process.
A friend of mine from an internet cat list had a true tragedy happen in the spring of 2004. She is blind, lives on her own and is very independent, and had a house fire. She managed to escape with her guide dog, but unfortunately her 9 cats did not, and her house was also a total loss. Our internet group got together and raised funds for her and helped her to find new housing and get her life back in order again, but I felt so badly for her great loss of all of her cats, all of which were rescues and lived a wonderful life with her. What happened to her touched all of us on the cat list, as it is one of our biggest fears, losing our animal companions in a fire.
A few of my fellow list members contacted me to ask if they could commission me to paint her cats in stone for her. Even though Phyllis cannot see, this type of artwork, because it is palpable and 3D, we thought would be a wonderful memorial to her special cat companions. It was a bittersweet experience for me to paint those lovely cats of hers, I got to know each sweet face and felt, as I always do when I paint a commissioned piece, that I get to know a little bit of each cat's personality as I paint them. I did something special for Phyllis on these, on the underside where I usually paint their names, I painted raised braille letters so that Phyllis knows each cats' rock portrait by touch. Phyllis was very grateful to receive the memorials to her beloved cats, and feels each one holds a little of the spirit of that cat, and they will remain with her always.
I first heard of Fred only after his passing in December 2002, when an article appeared our local newspaper. However, Fred was a celebrity, and single-handedly put the town of Rockford, population 450, on the map! He wandered up as a stray, and soon stole the hearts of the entire town, and became a fixture at Ken’s Package store in the center of town, where he lived and was taken care of by the owner who was his official guardian.
He greeted customers, made the rounds of the town, and became known as the Official Town Dog. His picture graced t-shirts and mugs, a sign designating him town dog was erected next to the town sign, he had his own column in the local newspaper, and soon people were traveling through the backroads of Alabama just to visit with Fred, and even brought their own dogs to meet him. Word spread some more, and Animal Planet did a feature on Fred. He had his own bank account, and was grand marshall of the 4th of July parade.
Fred got the honor of being inducted into the Alabama Veterinary Hall of Fame in January 2004, and I attended that ceremony to honor that special dog. I made the road trip down to Rockford to present Ken with Fred's rock, and we heard stories and looked through scrapbooks, read letters that had been written to Fred by many of the children in town. Ken then took me to visit Fred's gravesite in an historic part of town behind the Old Rock Jail Museum, and I saw the newly purchased tombstone that honors this sweet dog.
About a year later, I received a package in the mail, containing a copy of the Coosa County News, the town newspaper of Rockford. In there was an article talking about the grand re-opening of the Old Rock Jail Museum, which houses all sorts of historic and antique items, dolls, war items, Native American artifacts, and, all of Fred's memorabilia, including Fred's rock portrait. I'm so proud to have a piece of my art in that museum.
Some people might think Fred was one lucky dog to have found his way to Rockford, but the townspeople were lucky too, as this dog touched many lives and brought people together. I know he touched mine even after his death. Gentle journey, Fred.
Testimonial from Ken:
"It looks just like Fred. You did an excellent job. Everyone I have shown it to agrees it looks like him. Thank you for your interest and your time."