The Best People

closeup of tortie cat

Kelly feels much better now.

Whew, what a week!

Last Sunday began with a sick kitty and a big assignment that I needed to begin right away, plus two 12-page newsletters to lay out and some interpretive signs to design, then paperwork for mom and water in my basement, a website update, two photo slideshows to prepare and getting ready for a little art festival on Saturday that I decided not to attend because it rained  from before dawn, and all day. That’s the short list.

Not much time for The Creative Cat and completing the articles I had begun from the Sheep and Fiber Fest last Saturday and other articles I’d intended to write during the week! But there’s no time like the present, so perhaps begin at the present and work my way backward, or at least include last week in what I post this week.

point state park pittsburgh

Point State Park with Pittsburgh in the background.

Today, Saturday, was both a disappointment and a pleasure. I was so looking forward to the I Made It! Market in Point State Park in conjunction with the Venture Outdoors Festival. I had often visited the Venture Outdoors Festival to try out some of the outdoor activities and meet up with groups who bicycle, hike, canoe and plan other outdoor activities and see what they have planned for the summer. Also, many of my design customers are environmental interests and I can visit with them as well; I’ve often designed displays and materials for use at the festival. And just being at Point State Park, that little 18-acre point of historic land that’s technically part of Pittsburgh’s downtown formed my the joining of the Allegheny and Monongahela into the Ohio River, is a pleasure in any season. I was looking forward to friends and photos.

rain on trail

Rain on the Trail

Weather in May is completely unpredictable; I’ve seen it go from balmy 80 to hail and wet snow in a few hours, so outdoor festivals are always chancy. Still, weather doesn’t upset me—I hike on trails when it’s 10 degrees and enjoy a walk in the woods during a rain, and I’ll take a chance on just about anything where being a vendor at a festival is concerned.

But I always need to be careful of my merchandise because without that, what’s the point? In this case as in many others, these are unique things I’ve made individually by hand, investing hours and money, so I’m careful not to see them damaged or ruined.

I had packed my car with the art, prints and crocheted items I’d be taking the night before. I awoke to the sound of rain when it should have been dawn but was still dark because of a storm. It continued. I decided to check the radar and see what was headed our way and just wait it out. Sometimes rain only lasts until noon then the afternoon is gorgeous.

But radar showed lines of showers and storms coming from the south, the ones that bring the heaviest rains, about an hour apart for the next several hours. I checked my materials in the car, and the crocheted washcloths felt as if I’d spun them in the washer and left them damp. I could see some of my block prints beginning to ripple around the edges, even the ones in frames, which meant moisture was seeping into the packaging. If I was to be outdoors in the dampness all day, especially on a grassy area that had already been soaked by rain, even under a tent, they would all be rippled by afternoon. I would probably have to open up all the frames and plastic for a day afterward and let it all dry out. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, or to risk a violent storm coming through in the afternoon and hoping I could pack everything up before glass broke and small things blew away.

I never cancel, but I did. I’m sure I would have had a great time meeting new people and talking to other artists plus sneaking visits to the Venture Outdoors vendors, but I would also likely have few sales on a day like this, and have a mess to clean up when I got back.

view of display

Cozy on a rainy day.

So I drove the car back to my shop at Carnegie Antiques and began putting things away, including the vintage earrings and delicate pink crocheted dresser scarf borrowed from Judi’s shop that just made the outfit I had planned for the day. I had thrown on an old pair of shorts and tank top, my well-humidified hair tied back by a bandanna, no makeup, flip flops left in the car, totally unsuited to greet the public.

block print

Near and Far Away, block print

But that was when the fun began. In packing I had discovered a few other block prints and some black and white photographs I didn’t know I still had and decided to photograph those in preparation for posting on Etsy. I looked forward to filling out my Etsy shop with those inspirations and pondering the new ones I was planning since I now had the space in my studio to make them and the place to display them, so I’d be spending at least a half hour at the shop.

black and white photo

Feverfew Field, black and white photo

As I began, Judi, proprietor, walked back to my room with a friend who was also an animal lover, and we spent almost an hour exchanging stories about or households. She has an Akita which she had adopted and a yellow Lab she took in when her friend, the dog’s owner, had died a few years earlier. She also has three cats, two adopted from shelters and one rescued from a stray/feral colony she cares for across the road at an abandoned house.

pencil sketch of kitten

Ready for Play, pencil sketch

How do you choose just one kitten from a colony? This was early in her career with this little group, before she began spaying and neutering and swiping kittens for adoption to keep the group under control. She went to feed them one day and one particular kitten caught her eye, and she couldn’t forget the kitten. The next day she simply told the kitten she was coming home across the street, picked her up and carried her away, much to the kitten’s consternation. But the kitten adjusted to the house with the guidance of the other two cats and today isn’t even interested in the outdoors.

Her dogs were an interesting story of how animals communicate, though, and how they know more than we think they do about how we feel. Akitas and Huskies can be aggressive with cats, except when they know the cat “belongs” to the owner, and so it was with these cats. The woman had unfortunately discovered the colony across the street when her Akita ran across the street, chased a cat and killed it. The Akita was not allowed to run free, but was focused on his task and that was that.

Once the colony was discovered, she began providing food and water daily and also trying to interact with the cats, catch a few to be fixed, and social the kittens. The Akita ran across the street a few other times, but only stood guard at the colony and never tried to harm the cats again, even nosing around among them now and then.

On this particular Saturday morning, with the heavy rain, she decided to wait for the rain to subside before feeding the cats. Her Akita and Lab would have none of it. They actually refused outdoor privileges and treats until she figured out what they wanted because they kept looking across the street. She filled two food containers and fed the cats. As soon as she returned the dogs accepted their treats and ran outdoors on their leashes.

photo of printed curtain

Tabbies Curtain in Tan

We agreed that it’s amazing what animals know and perceive about us, their humans, how they not only love us unconditionally but also the things we care about, simply because we do.  They know how she feels about those cats, and they probably feel just as responsible for them and they had no intention of having fun until the cats were taken care of.

She was very pleased to find my shop and made note of several things she’d get as gifts in the coming year plus the animal sympathy cards. She has no computer, but I have a few other friends who are offline and we can still keep in touch.

The second woman came in just a little later as I was photographing curtains I’d printed with a good bit of the shop pushed out of the way. She walked through with Judy, then on her way back stopped and said, “Oh, my, you’re the cat lady!” and proceeded to tell me that she had rescued and fostered for years and at one time had 18 cats, some of whom were FeLV positive, many of whom had been injured or abused. Of course, we also shared stories! She is now down to two cats because she had been planning to sell her house for several years and so didn’t replace the cats who had passed or been adopted, but she’s building a bigger house and will be fostering again, for sure.

watercolor of cat on windowsill

Buster Lookin' at His Toes

She remarked that there were no good places to buy “cat stuff” in Pittsburgh anymore because the four gift shops specializing in cat gift items that had been in the area were closed. I had just learned this myself as I’ve been looking for merchants to carry my things and attempting to reconnect with shop owners I’d known in years past.

She suggested I attempt to fill that void. I told her this little back room was about as much as I could manage at the moment, but my ultimate goal was to have a gallery that featured my animal artwork as well as that of other artists. Someday.

As I put my shop back in order she walked around looking at everything she could, actually going around several times as we continued to talk. The room isn’t big, but, “there’s so much to look at!” she said. Well, it’s the result of a little over 20 years of creative effort and it will take some time to see everything. I assured her that as long as Judi would have me I’d be there so she should please come back to visit again.

image of block print

Awakening, block print

Perhaps missing out on a rainy day in the park wasn’t a bad thing as I met two new people and likely future customers. Both women were very happy to find me, and I was also pleased to make their acquaintance, both for the prospect of new customers and of trading cat stories and talking about pets in general. This is what I have always loved best about my career as an animal artist.

People who love animals are the best people, and somehow we always find each other. These women had not even known I was there and had come to visit Judi’s shop, not me, and I’m rarely there on Saturday, so our meeting was completely serendipitous.

I have also found that many of the customers I’ve worked with for years as a designer, writer and photographer are also animal lovers, most, in fact, cat people, only discovered when they arrived here to drop off work and greet my cats, and then we trade cat stories. I’m surrounded! But by some of the best people in the world.

If you don’t hear from me for a while, you can always check What’s New in Bernadette’s Studio?, the blog where I post upcoming events and shows, certain new assignments, and just about every project I have completed whether it’s fine art, graphic design, photography, or anything else.