A chat with the artist behind Caroline's Menagerie by Angie McKaig
Step out of reality and into a whimsical world where pooches wear clothing. They dress and sit like royalty (or jesters of the courts), bringing an elegance and charm to your home. Breeds from Boston Terriers to Dalmations and Greyhounds don silks, satins and reading glasses and sit among your guests when you entertain.
Sound like a fairy "tail"? With the mixed media figure creations from Caroline's Menagerie, you can bring this fantasy into your own home. Figures range in size from 24" to 36" and range in price from $200 to $900, depending on complexity. Custom pieces can be requested to your size requirements - prices vary.
We fell in love with these charming creatures the moment we set eyes on them. We recently spoke to Carrie Murtha, the artist behind the menagerie.
pp:What made you decide to devote so much of your artistic time to creating animals?
cm: I have always had three consistent passions... art, animals, and travel. At first, I combined all three loves and created animal figures from different countries. I gave them names representative of their ethnic backgrounds and wrote short stories about them. Then, about six months ago I decided to devote most of my creative time to making cats and dogs. I feel a very strong connection to these furry friends and was compelled to celebrate them in a special way. If I hadn't decided to be an artist, I would no doubt have been a veterinarian!
pp:What is your artistic background?
cm: Growing up, I took every art class I had access to: painting, drawing, pastels, etc. My mom is an artist as well, so I have always been encouraged and supported in my creative endeavors. Recently, she recalled that when I was very little, my favorite activity was "making things". I think that this is where my interest in mixed media art began - pulling many different resources together to create something unique.
pp:How many years have you been creating dogs?
cm: I started creating dogs about 6 months ago. When I began making figures years ago, I did cats, pigs, cows, frogs, rabbits, owls... everything BUT dogs! Honestly, I was simply afraid to try dogs. Interestingly, in the past few years, people constantly requested dogs and I told them I couldn't do it.
Finally, I had a customer who is very involved in greyhound rescue and she suggested that I create a greyhound. For some reason, her enthusiasm and love of dogs motivated me to just do it! I made two greyhounds and they turned out to be my best work to date. Ever since, I have been obsessed with creating dogs, looking at dogs, talking to dogs, and searching the internet for dogs! Their facial structures and fur patterns/colors are all so different from each other, so each one is a new, fun challenge to create.
pp:Have you ever done any shows? Are there other places where people can see your work?
cm: I have been participating in outdoor art shows and festivals for about four years. Currently, I am applying to get into various indoor fine craft shows and galleries. I exhibited at the ACC (American Craft Council) show in Charlotte this past December. In addition, I reside in a live/work loft space in the westside warehouse area of Atlanta where I have a gallery/retail space downstairs from our living quarters. People are welcome to call or email me to make an appointment to view my artwork.
pp:You have such an unusual style! How did it develop?
cm: Thank you! It is extremely important to me that I have my own "look". As an artist, you aspire to create pieces that are new and innovative and totally unique which can be difficult because there are so many talented people out there! When viewers look at my artwork and say, "I've never seen anything like this" or "This is so unique", I take it as a huge compliment.
I love to incorporate a whimsical, fairy tale-like quality into my work. Cirque du Soleil, Alice in Wonderland, and Beatrix Potter are big favorites of mine. I want my characters to look like they could bust out laughing or get up and dance a jig at any moment. Basically, I adore colorful, elaborate fashion and of course, I LOVE animals, so I combined both and designed my very own menagerie!
pp:How do you go about creating a piece, and how long does it normally take?
cm: I always begin by sculpting the head. I build up layers of clay to create the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and fur which takes several days because I let each layer air dry before adding another. I create details with my fingers and tiny sculpting tools. The next step is painting the head. I use acrylic paint and seal it with a varnish. This is when the animal really starts to come to life!
Next, I select a color scheme and sew and stuff the figure's body parts with various fabrics. I always use really beautiful, high quality textiles: silks, organdies, velvets, faux furs, brocades, etc. I love to mix patterns and textures! Lastly, I add whimsical embellishments to give each creation its own flair and style. I use vintage beads and buttons, antique lace and jewelry pieces, ribbon, feathers, and other unusual found objects. Most of these pieces take about 25 hours to design and create.
pp:Which part of your work do you find most rewarding - the pieces for sale or the commissioned work?
cm: Oooh, this is a difficult question because both types have their own special rewards. I love making the pieces that I dream up on my own because I have the freedom to do absolutely whatever I want with them - no restrictions, so the sky is the limit! However, there is nothing quite like seeing the joy and excitement on someone's face when I have created their own pet. That is priceless!
pp:Why do you think high-end art with a dog theme has become increasingly popular?
cm: Dogs (and cats) are amazing, fabulous, wonderful little souls! I believe that the world is a stressful and sometimes frightening place, and our pets are a much needed and incomparable source of humor, love, and solace. When you walk in the door after a long, hard day and a furry, happy body comes running to greet you, all your worries melt away. They are like therapy on four legs! I truly believe that they are the epitome of unconditional love. Therefore, I think that many artists want to honor and celebrate dogs in their artwork, and pet owners love to fill their homes and surround themselves with beautiful pet art.
pp:What plans do you have for the future?
cm: I have big plans! I hope to continue to refine and expand my animal creations (2 and 3 dimensional) and write and illustrate a few books. My ultimate dream is to start an animal adoption/rescue "farm" with an on-site gallery/shop/cafe full of unique animal art and pet products to help raise money for the care of the animals.
I'm also looking forward to the day when we can add a dog or two or three to our family! I am especially fond of pugs and boston terriers - their sweet faces melt my heart. I have photos of pugs covering the walls around my studio. :)
pp:Carrie, we know exactly what you mean!
You can find out more about Caroline's Menagerie from their web site at www.carolinesmenagerie.com