When dogs and cats (and the occasional hedgehog, guinea pig or iguana) leave the Linda McNatt Animal Care & Adoption Center with their forever family, they’ll pass under a very special new work of art.
Welcome Home is a sort of mosaic. About 1,600 small works of art — paintings made by Denton ISD students, Northwest ISD students, volunteers and members of the Art Room — are pieced together to show a cat and a dog lounging in the sun.
The tiny paintings depict everything from animals to objects. Put together, they create a large, framed work of art that celebrates the joy companion animals bring to people.
The piece was presented during a reception at the shelter on Wednesday morning. Local dignitaries attended, and the presentations were punctuated by barks and yips from the shelter’s residents.
The piece is the latest of the Art Room’s annual community art projects, which are made in association with North Texas Giving Day. The Art Room is a Denton nonprofit that manages a studio and hosts art therapy programs and support for people dealing with mental health challenges. Members of the Art Room have access to open studio time, materials, support and guidance from volunteer mental health professionals and artists. And they get all that at no cost, although the nonprofit does accept donations.
Maryam Flory, a licensed professional counselor who serves as the vice president and secretary of the Art Room, came up with the idea of giving small art kits to local students, artists and volunteers and turning them into a larger work of a dog and cat cuddled together.
“The idea was born out of being introduced to artist trading cards, which are some of the cards that are 2.5 by 3.5 [inches],” Flory said. “The idea was introduced to me by one of our previous art educators, and I just fell in love with it, because it felt so accessible and personal. I just loved it and thought, ‘Why not put like a thousand of them into a big piece?’”
Eighty percent of the artists’ small works would use the assigned color, but the texture, style and media were the artists’ choice.
Dorothy Pennington, the Art Room program manager and a former art teacher, took the lead on the community project. She assembled the kits and the instructions and distributed them to Art Room members, local schools and artists.
Three hundred artists made pieces for the project, Pennington said. Students from W.S. Ryan Elementary School, Strickland Middle School and Fred Moore High School created pieces from the kits Pennington and volunteers made.
“When I was an art educator, we always did some kind of community art project, and they were always the best,” Pennington said. “The students always really liked it and loved to see how they came together.”
Marlys Lamar, the founder and president of the Art Room, said the community art project is always done in conjunction with the North Texas Giving Day fundraiser.
“Each year, we do some fundraising to keep the doors open,” Lamar said. “In 2019, that’s when we first started making a community art project. We’ve done one every year. This year, we were so excited to present the project to Linda McNatt [animal shelter] because we want to honor what our animal friends meant to us.”
The Art Room has produced a large mural for Our Daily Bread’s soup kitchen and community shelter as well as another project for Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home.
Mayor Gerard Hudspeth congratulated the Art Room and said the city will soon begin regular exhibitions in City Hall. He said he appreciated the new piece and often praises the animal shelter.
“There are cities around us, like Frisco, that don’t have a facility like this and that are volunteer-run,” Hudspeth said. “I think this is an important investment.”
Hudspeth joked about the difference between the response to the Art Room’s project and those for the city of Denton projects.
“You got back more than a thousand pieces of art,” he said. “I do want to understand how you send out information and get it back. as far as feedback. I want to know your secret sauce. Maybe we need some artwork on the back of the city’s work we send out. Maybe we could work together on that.”