Artists create pet portraits to raise money for longtime Sonoma Valley animal shelter
Sonoma artist Barbara White Perry is known for her detailed ink drawings of historic Valley of the Moon locales and her vivid oil paintings inspired by local landscapes. Lately, though, her attention is focused on the beloved pets starring in a creative fundraising campaign for Pets Lifeline, Sonoma Valley’s longtime animal shelter.
She is among 149 artists of all ages and skill levels donating their time and talents to create pet portraits from photographs submitted to Pets Lifeline along with donations of $20 or more to help the nonprofit during the coronavirus shutdown.
The fundraiser launched in March, shortly after Sonoma County’s initial mandates to help slow the transmission of COVID-19. “People just absolutely jumped on it,” said Nancy King, the shelter’s executive director. “It’s been so much fun.”
So far the shelter has received nearly 300 commissions, raising almost $9,000 for general expenses. It’s a considerable amount during a period when scheduled fundraising events were either canceled or modified online because of pandemic restrictions on public gatherings. The shelter has been closed since March, with a limited number of adoptions possible. Additionally, Pets Lifeline is housed in temporary facilities as construction of a new, long-anticipated $3.4 million animal resource center is underway.
The Pet Portraits project has been “kind of an escape” during shelter-in-place, White Perry said. “I’m so immersed in the portraits that it’s an escape from all the stuff going on in the world. It’s really uplifting.”
She’s completed nine portraits so far, including a drawing of a dog named Coco created with pencil, ink, pastels and vine charcoal, a material made from burnt grape vines. Other works feature acrylics, oils and watercolors - portraits lovingly created for those who consider their pets important members of the family.
“They know they’re doing this for someone else who deeply loves their pet,” King said. “Pets are a part of our life. It’s really a family portrait.”
Boyes Hot Springs artist Barbara Mannle was among the first volunteers to lend her talents to the campaign. Like White Perry, she has adopted from Pets Lifeline and was more than happy to help with the fundraiser.
“I thought it was such a brilliant idea,” said Mannle, who owned and operated the local Gingerbread House preschool and child care center for 43 years before retiring. “I was really happy to be able to give something. I thought I could do that. Here I am at home.”
Mannle doesn’t consider herself a professional artist. She’s taken art classes through the Santa Rosa Junior College Older Adults Program and has displayed her watercolors in a few shows, but she’s never been interested in selling her artwork. The Pet Portraits project, she said, is an ideal way to share her work.
Mannle has completed four paintings, striving to capture an expression or nuance from each pet photo she received. For one, of a mostly black cat with a deep gaze, she made four or five renderings before she was content with the portrait.
White Perry also is exacting. Although one portrait took her about three hours, others require much more time to complete. She studies the submitted photos (some with notes about the pets) to determine personalities or “get to know” the pet she’s highlighting.
Although most commissions are of dogs and cats, Pets Lifeline welcomes all kinds of animal portraits. Commissions include a parrot, several horses and a sheep. A chicken was in one portrait with a dog, and volunteer artists await any other beloved pets, from frogs and fish to reptiles.
For animal lovers like Michael Piacentini of Agua Caliente, the portraits are a meaningful opportunity to remember beloved pets. He submitted a photo of his 13-year-old dog, Gelida, or Geli, a Catalonian sheepdog he adopted as a puppy in Spain after discovering the breed during an earlier vacation there.
He and his husband, Brian Brockway, adored both Gelida and their other dog, Izzy, another Catalonian sheepdog who was Gelida’s aunt. Gelida was stricken with a rare disease and died after Piacentini sent Pets Lifeline her photo.
“I was not really thinking it was going to be a memorial,” Piacentini said. “I sent it in before she passed and got it back after she had passed.” The touching portrait of the couple’s beloved dog, with her soulful eyes and shaggy coat, was created by Debbie Tancik, “absolutely beautifully done,” Piacentini said.
He and Brockway have since commissioned three portraits featuring Gelida and Izzy, who passed away earlier at age 15. Each is by a different artist.