Webster Alumni Create Art for the Animals

Two Webster graduates are participating in "The Harry and Hanley Project," a fund-raiser for the Animal Protective Association of St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS - Twenty colorful fiberglass statues – 10 dogs and 10 cats in all – have been standing guard in shops, businesses and airports around St. Louis for the past two months. Each animal waits silently for observers to notice and admire their unique coats of paint and possibly to reflect on the value of animals in our world.

Two Webster University graduates are among the artists behind these stoic displays.

Victoria L. Szulc, a 1991 graduate of Webster, and Genevieve Esson, a 1986 graduate, were among the 20 well-known artists selected to participate in “The Harry and Hanley Project,” a fund-raiser for the Animal Protective Association (APA) of Missouri.

The statues were molded from originals created by renowned artist Harry Weber. Each copy was given to a local artist and painted earlier this year. They currently are being displayed around the city. Esson's statue, named "Hunt for the Unicorn on A Full Moon,” can be found in the lobby of Parkcrest Plastic Surgery. Szulc's statue, titled “A Clockwork Cat,” can be found in Terminal One of the Lambert St. Louis International Airport.

Artist Victoria L. SzulcSzulc said she became involved in “The Harry and Hanley Project” after she saw a promotion for it on a local news program. She was asked to join the Project planning committee due to her past experiences with public art and her specialty in animal drawing and painting. She has sold many pieces at local animal shows, donated work to benefit pet rescue operations and shelters, had work displayed at Purina Farms, and is on the artist's registry at the AKC Museum of the Dog. She also previously worked on large-scale public art projects in St. Louis. She contributed to 2001's “The People Project” and “Wings in The City” in 2010.

She credits her education at Webster for her artistic success. While she had been drawing most of her life, it was Webster art professor Gary Passanise who gave her art the focus it needed.

“Gary Passanise encouraged me to go big in size, to elevate my works,” Szulc said. “I started using the biggest sheets of paper I could get my hands on, including photographic backdrop paper, and turned my two-dimensional works into large pieces like those of the iconic Chuck Close. I also developed a loose, lyrical style with animals as my theme that I still use on pieces today. One of my latest prize winning pieces is ‘Sleepy Hounds,' a 4-foot by 6-foot charcoal and pastel.”

 “A Clockwork Cat” reflects her current interest in Victorian-themes and steampunk styles. Steampunk is a West-Coast art movement where artists create original works that reflect the style of clothing and machinery described in the literature of Victorian-era science fiction writers H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

“The Victorians were fantastic gardeners and botanists. I thought of Henry Shaw, his gardens and the Victorian language of flowers, i.e. that yellow roses symbolize friendship,” Szulc said. “I used visual puns and ties to British literature and games to create a vivid images throughout the piece.”

“The Clockwork Cat” statue is painted with insects, a chess-board patterned vest and spats. Woven throughout the work are violets, vines, sunflowers, and cat o'nine tails. Some three dimensional details, a bowler hat, monocle, a pocket watch, add to the whimsical nature of the piece.

“There are allusions to Victorian literature as well, with the Telltale Heart (Edgar Allen Poe) on his breast and a yellow snake emerging from the snowy breast as in ‘Rikki Tikki Tavi' by Rudyard Kipling,” Szulc added.

Esson's work for the APA project is equally complex.

Artist Genevieve Esson with her artNamed “The Hunt for the Unicorn on a Full Moon,” Esson worked with a dog statue and incorporated one of her favorite themes – that of classic unicorn representations found on 15th and 16th century, “The Hunt for the Unicorn” tapestries (a series of seven) from the Netherlands.

Her dog is based on the second tapestry.

“There is a certain beauty, innocence and a story behind the scene that unfolds in this tapestry, conveying a sense of peace in the animal kingdom,” Esson said. “The dogs in the tapestry are very loyal and intent on their pursuit of the unicorn and I wanted to illustrate that on the dog sculpture.”

The sculpture includes a painting of the sky with a full moon hidden by clouds on top of the dog's head, there is a pair of dogs searching for their prey on both sides (the unicorn is in hiding by the waterfall on the sculpture), and a number of flora and fauna elements are inspired from the tapestries. The unicorn, emblem of purity itself, is dipping its horn and capable of purifying the water, including those things that have been contaminated. “This noble beast has always been popular and I wanted to tie the dogs in with this legend, they are also enjoyed by many people,” she said.

 The floral elements like the pomegranate tree represents fertility and abundance.

“There is a lot of symbolism in the use of these plants and trees, also a sense of mystery with the animals,” Esson said. “I have always admired medieval art and history. I took a course on it when I was a student at Webster University.”

She was invited to participate in the project by an APA official, who was familiar with Esson's work around St. Louis. Previous projects include a bus design for the Metro's Art in Transit program, three life-sized lion sculptures for University City Parks and Recreation (one of which is permanently displayed in Heman Park, but temporarily being repaired at the artists studio), and a larger-than-life butterfly sculpture sculpture (Wings in the City project), currently installed in the Dierberg's Family Markets corporate headquarters in Chesterfield. She said she gladly participated in the “Harry and Hanley Project” as she loves animals.

Esson said she believes that she has gained recognition as an artist because of the ethics and work habits taught to her while she was at Webster. Genevieve also grew up with art, and has been drawing since she was small, her father being an artist.

“I gained great experience and value from being an undergraduate art student at Webster University,” she said. “I value my education at Webster because I put myself through school. I was awarded a drawing scholarship while there. I am grateful to my professors, Tom Lang and Leon Hicks especially, for installing in me their work ethic and inspiration to be an artist, the ability to keep myself open to new ideas and to research themes. That is what they taught me about the art world. I still do that to this day.”

The statues will be displayed around the city until Sept. 6-8, when they all will be brought to the Clayton Art Fair and - with the exception of a few that have already been sold - will be auctioned off as part of the APA's 90th anniversary gala on Sept. 14th. To learn more about “The Harry and Hanley Project,” visit the APA's website at http://www.harryandhanley.com/.

To learn more about Szulc, visit her Facebook fanpage at  https://www.facebook.com/MySteampunkProject and  https://www.hautehen.com.

To learn more about Esson, visit  http://www.genevieveesson.webs.com.

For more information about art programs at Webster University, visit http://webster.edu/fine-arts/.