A new collaboration between the La Grange Art League and the Hinsdale Humane Society aims to help children and pets.
Children, young artists, draw or paint animals for adoption while portraits are used either as fundraisers or as gifts to people who adopt the animal. Jan Reagan, the Art League’s studio director, said they teamed up with the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago a year ago and art students love painting animals. So this year they decided to team up with the Hinsdale Humane Society.
“This is the first time we’ve done anything with the Humane Society,” Reagan said.
She said the partnership provides a chance for students, aged 9 to 13, to try out techniques. This year, the pets were done in the style of Kehinde Wiley, the artist who painted the famous President Obama against a surreal, lush background of flowering bushes.
The students don’t sit with the animals — they paint from photos provided by the Humane Society — but Reagan said the photos are high quality and provide plenty of work. From there, each student selects a photo to work with.
“What’s great is that the Humane Society captures the photos and we paint from the photos,” Reagan said. “They put a lot of personality into the portraits.”
Students come from all over. Some attend public school, others come from private schools, but every two months a new batch arrives at the La Grange Art League for lessons. So far they’ve made dogs, cats, and the occasional rabbit.
Last month’s program was so successful that Reagan said she expects to continue the collaboration.
“I have an art lab in May with a few spots left and I just set up the June schedule,” she said.
Students can work in a variety of media, including oils, watercolors, or acrylic paints, and hours spent in the studio can count toward community service hours—often required of students. But the big reward is knowing that the works will be auctioned off — or donated — to help local homeless animals.
“They threw them,” Reagan said. “They loved it. I think we’ll end up with 15 or 20 portraits.
For the Humane Society, it is also a victory. The local nonprofit organization has the opportunity to offer local donors handmade animal portraits, a unique piece of art that captures an animal.
“Jan contacted me, I didn’t even contact him,” said Kelsie Weisenberger, education program manager for the Humane Society. “She said a lot of her students have been really into animals lately and she wanted to do a project with our adopted animals.”
Weisenberger said they’ve partnered with other groups in the past and found pet art to be popular among donors. She therefore welcomed the collaboration. But, she added, she also enjoyed helping young artists learn more about the Humane Society itself.
“Even though it’s not something that primarily benefits the Humane Society, it’s very important to get young people to understand directly how the Humane Society benefits the community,” she explained. “I don’t need everything the kids do to benefit us. I just like the idea that kids see the benefit of having a Humane Society in the community.
Of course, this will probably benefit the Humane Society. On May 5th they will have a gallery showing where they will be selling the paintings to raise money for the animal group. Usually pet owners would receive the animal’s portrait, but this is the first year the group will be selling the paintings to raise funds.
“I just started this role in January,” Weisenberger said. “So it’s totally new. It’s something I just started doing. But I got a lot of feedback from the staff and the staff love it.
More than the staff, Weisenberger said she’s also heard of the artists, who stop to ask questions about the animals they’ve painted.
“I’ve had kids come up to me asking oh I drew Henry the dog, was he adopted? And we’ll show them a picture of the dog with his new family and that will really connect the kids with the animal,” she said.
The gallery viewing and sale will take place May 5 from 6-9 p.m. at the Hinsdale Humane Society. To learn more about art classes, contact the Art League at [email protected]
Jesse Wright is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.