Dogs playing poker mural project gets $20K for shelter, city

Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (British), Poker Game, oil on canvas, 1894, sold for $658,000 in 2015

WEST POINT, Miss. (AP) — Since she painted her first mural in downtown West Point seven years ago, Deborah Mansfield’s work has been the talk of the town.
But no project quite compares to the one she has been working on since early last summer.

What began as an idea for a single mural to help raise funds for the local animal shelter and the city’s Main Street Association has now become four separate murals adorning the buildings occupied by Frank’s Package Store and The SmokeStack tobacco store.

“It has really exploded,” said Kathy Dyess, chairman of the Main Street West Point design committee. “People come by all the time. They holler at us as they drive by. People have really enjoyed watching it happen. Nobody expected this.”

The idea, said Mansfield, was to recreate the “Dogs Playing Poker” artwork of Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, whose original 18 paintings of humanized dogs, used primarily for promotional and advertisements from 1894 to 1910, have become iconic works of pop art, as recognizable as Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” or Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

″‘Dogs Playing Poker’ was always a painting I wanted to do,” Mansfield said. “I thought it would be fun.”

As she kicked around the idea with Dyess and other committee members, a twist was suggested. For a donation of $350, a person could have their dog illustrated as one of the characters in the scene.

“It went absolutely crazy from there,” Dyess said. “No one could have imagined.”

Soon, the donations started rolling in and Mansfield started on the poker scene using photos of donors’ dogs.

To date, donors have contributed more than $20,000. There are 43 dogs and three cats portrayed in four scenes. In addition to first mural, “Dogs Playing Poker,” there are “Dogs Playing Pool,” “Casino” and “The Dogs of Summer,” which Mansfield is just starting work on and will feature baseball cards with donor dogs as the players.

For that scene, Mansfield has painted in two of the local dogs and has three more donor dogs to add.

“We’re to the point where we need more dogs,” she said.

No one thinks that going to be a problem.

“After the first one, people figured out was going on and started calling, wanting their dogs in the murals,” Dyess said.

Mansfield said that both “Dogs Playing Poker” and “Dogs Playing Pool” have room to add dogs as donors request.

Something for posterity

That’s what happened in the case of Lisa Klutts, whose dog Amy is portrayed in the poker scene sitting in a red velvet chair wearing a party hat.

Klutts, the director of community development for the West Point Growth Alliance, adopted another dog, Hazel, after the poker scene had been completed, so Mansfield added Hazel’s image as a portrait hanging on the wall just above Amy’s head.

“It’s become so creative, with people suggesting different things for their dogs,” Dyess said.

Dyess’ cat, for example, is busy scratching off a Lotto Scratcher in the poker scene. An “American Gothic” painting on the wall is re-imagined with a pair of cats.

Another group of dogs are playing dice in a corner, while a chihuahua is playing piano on the other side of the poker room.

In the “Dogs Playing Pool” scene, a “Howling Wolf” can be seen out of the window, a tribute to the famous blues singer West Point celebrates each year with a music festival.

In the nine months since Mansfield began work on the first mural, it has become something more than a fun way to express donors’ love of their pets, but a memorial.

Some of the animals have crossed “The Rainbow Bridge” since Mansfield began her work. The murals are becoming memorials.

In fact, the mural on the north side of the building is a poignant example of that aspect of the murals.

Walter Fleishhacker, a longtime supporter of the animal shelter, was so excited by the project that he donated $5,000 to have the “Casino” mural painted with his beloved dog, Eavie, portraying all seven dogs in the scene, which includes Eavies playing craps and slots.

When Eavie died, Fleishhacker often returned to the mural, sitting and watching his Eavies play poker.

Fleishhacker died in February at age 85.

His tribute to his beloved pet is a memorial to them both now.

Mansfield said there’s room planned for another 15 dogs or cats.

“But, really, I’m not going to put a limit on it,” she said. “We’ll sprinkle cats and dogs in around the scenes. So anybody that wants their cat or dog on the mural can call me.”

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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