Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Making of Maria Margerita: An interview with artist Pat Ormsby

If you’ve driven down Memorial Avenue lately, you may have noticed Eastern States Exposition’s newest guest outside of Gate 2 – Maria Margerita, The Mardi Gras Dog. The West Highland Park Terrier is one of 46 colorfully decorated dogs, or “Terriers Around Town,” gracing businesses and various areas throughout the town. Each is sponsored, with the proceeds benefiting West Springfield school arts programs.

The project was spearheaded by Jane Barrientos and Christine Costanzi, who are hoping to raise $70,000 to fund art projects for school-aged children in the community. Although West Springfield is not typically known as an arts town, the women said that businesses have responded very well to sponsoring the project.

Our Mardi Gras puppy was designed, painted and adorned by West Springfield resident and artist, Pat Ormsby. I got the special chance to speak with Ormsby via phone last month to see just how one goes about designing a four-foot tall fiberglass dog.

Ormsby, a known oil painter around town, was approached by the Terriers Around Town committee to sketch an idea for the new project. Having seen projects similar to this in other towns, Ormsby believed the flashier the design, the more fun the dog would be. She initially created a “Fancy Lady” sketch, similar to a 1920’s flapper, which included the individual jewels and mirrored tiles, as well as a flapper headband.

Exposition officials asked for a “Mardi Gras” dog and fell in love with Ormsby’s flashy puppy design. Their only request was her headband be changed to a Mardi Gras mask since the Mardi Gras Parade has been an annual tradition at The Big E since 2000. The Westie was given the name “Maria Margerita, The Mardi Gras Dog” by Ormsby’s granddaughter.

The artist used shiny, colorful jewels and mirrored tiles to create the fancy outfit for Maria Margerita. Using bondo, the same tool used in car repair, Ormsby stuck each jewel on individually and the putty would dry within five minutes.

A lot of research went into choosing the materials and creating a design plan. There were also a lot of requirements for what kinds of supplies were used, since the dog would be outside in the sun, rain, and dirt.

“The biggest challenge I faced was the fact that I had never done anything like this before,” said Ormsby. “If I make a painting that I don’t like, I can just throw it away. I couldn’t just throw this away.”

However, once she got going, her creation came to life fast. “It took much longer to plan the design than to execute it,” said Ormsby.

While working on the exquisite jeweled blouse, Ormsby spray-painted the bottom half of the dog blue. She initially made several attempts to create a skirt for Maria, however, according to Ormsby, nothing looked quite right. She explained her dilemma to one of the neighborhood boys who was there on a visit when he said, “Oh, I thought she was wearing jeans.” And there, the idea for blue jeans on Maria Margerita was born. Ormsby also gave the puppy hot pink nail polish and lipstick, a Rolex watch and gold bracelet to add to the “flashy effect.”

The last remaining challenge for Ormsby was designing the Mardi Gras Mask. For the first time in her life as an artist, she used sculpting clay. After several failed attempts that included the clay sticking to her kitchen table and on wax paper, Ormsby knew she just had to give it her best shot and affix the quickly-drying mask as soon as it was molded. “If I had to do it again, it’d be no problem. I just wasn’t used to the consistency of the clay the first time,” she said.

Be on the lookout for all 46 Terriers who will make an appearance in the Big E Parade at 5 p.m. on West Springfield Day, Monday, September 20!

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