Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Conventional Pug

As artists make art, they eventually go to shows and conventions. We take our Pugs with us to our various trade shows. When they see the suitcase, they start squealing and singing with joy; when the crates are packed, the excitement is ear-splitting. There is a specific scream they reserve for the five minutes of loading, up to the highway onramp: "Weee go! GO! GO!" This scream is punctuated with "I ruv yooooooo!", just so we know they love us extra, for this. The hum of the freeway under the tires lulls them to sleep, and they only rouse when the car slows to an offramp. Here we just got on the freeway:

They know that they will soon be in a sea of people that (they think) are there to pet them. Attention is, of course, high on the Pug list of daily requirements.

How does one mesh a live Pug into a crowded event where delicate expensive things are on display? One word: homework.

I read the event's rules, the hotel rules, and make sure the kennel cough vax are boosted within the past six months. (Annual is OK for dogs who don't travel.) I also drill commands a day or two before leaving, using food rewards and creating novel situations at home. For example, on a warm day, I will put a wet towel on the kitchen floor and direct the Pugs to sit and lay down on it. Things at shows may be new and strange, so it's good to review commands for a few minutes, and make sure your Pugs are easy to manage in any situation. It is also important to be a good citizen and clean up after your dog; we pack those handy belt-loop baggie dispensers. We don't put our dogs up on foodservice counters or on lobby furnishings because it's unsanitary, impolite, and some people may be allergic to any residual hairs or dander. Good manners of both dog and owner are essential to being welcomed back again.

We start our Pugs at trade shows as soon as each one joins our family. Our Pugs are now known by name to the staff at some shows. The sights, sounds, and smells of a convention are excellent preparation for a puppy who will be competing at dog shows. Here is our Little Man at a scifi convention last year:

The Pugs are excellent conversation starters, and always make people smile. They also keep our spirits up, no matter the outcome of a competition or sale. If sales are slow, the Pugs will clown for us until we laugh. When business is bustling, they quietly snooze in their box under the table and wait for closing time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Form of a Pug

Here at the pottery, the work has been flowing in non-stop. I have very few evenings like this one, where I am free to write for the blog. I have had to close all ceramic Pug orders, just so I can have stock at the 2010 National Specialty. Meanwhile, I have been working on many equine pieces for my other collectors and commercial clients.

When I'm working long hours and my mind wanders to the why of animal art pottery, I invariably glance over at history on the shelf. My animal art pottery collection is not large, but it covers a range of clays and techniques and serves as both reference and inspiration. Here are two ceramic Pugs of very different "pedigrees" that remind me how to capture the character of the breed.

The white glazed Pug in the golden barrel is a salt shaker by Royal Worcester, dating from 1867-1875, as best I can tell from its mark. The decorating technique is detailed down to the red overglaze woodgrain patterns on the barrel's gold-overglazed staves. The mold has excellent detail, even down to the tail poking out the barrel hole. This Pug seems to be trying to free himself after falling into a barrel, and is panting with the effort. His entire head is covered with the shaker holes, negating any room for forehead wrinkles, although ceramic Pugs of this era were often smooth-headed. In the ceramics world, despite his long 19th century nose, this Pug is truly a blueblood.

By contrast, the humble black Pug bitch may date from the 1960's, and is by Alberta Booth. She made many pottery dog breed figurines, and, like me, made her own sculptures, molds, and glazed all of her ware. From a little online reading, I learned that Ms. Booth continued her pottery up until about 2006, at age 89, when her sight began to fail and forced her to stop. I hope that I have the good fortune to have such a long life, and be making my ware at that age, to boot! This little Pug has the characteristic cocked head and forward ears of interest. The forehead is well wrinkled, and the tail double-curled and set on top of the back. Even though standing (stacked) for show, and solid black so details are hard to see, this Pug has expression.

In fact, both of these pieces illustrate how to show breed character, despite a lack of face shading and fawn color. They are lessons in the basics of modelling a breed for ceramic production. When I have a doubt, I ask myself if my Pug sculpture would read as a typical Pug, even if glazed solid white or black. A big thank you to Jo Ellen for gifting me with both of these charming instructors in Pug art.