A few weeks ago, The Five-Year-Old and I had the opportunity to meet Cathy Gruetzke-Blais, the artist who painted the Regal Rabbit. Local readers can find the bunny at the East Dedham Shopping Plaza on the corner of Bussey and High Streets.
Normally, I like to hold these artist interviews at the bunnies themselves. I find it helps focus a certain wildly roving mind on the topic at hand. However, while the Regal Rabbit’s placement in the grass is lovely, its busy street corner is not exactly conducive to calm conversation with kindergarteners.
So we met at Ben & Jerry’s instead.
On the way to our rendezvous, I drove The Five-Year-Old by the Regal Rabbit to remind her which rabbit we were going to be talking about. (The flip side to the rabbit’s location being the fact that it’s really easy to see from the road.)
Consequently, once The Five-Year-Old had settled in with her chocolate chunk ice cream, she remembered with relatively little prompting her most important question. “How did you do the sparkles?”
“Glitter,” Cathy replied. “I used a special glue, then added the glitter. Then I added a coat of clear paint–acrylic–over the top.”
The Five-Year-Old, who is noted for the innovative use of glitter in her own art, nodded sagely. She had suspected as much.
“Are the spots really made of paper?” The Five-Year-Old asked as she picked out a disappointingly large chunk of chocolate from her cone. The Five-Year-Old prefers her chocolate chips in sliver form.
“Some, not all,” Cathy replied. “Some that are painted have the collage on top.”
To make her collage spots, Cathy used acid-free Japanese paper primed to stand up to the elements. “I wanted the extra dimension,” she explained. “It’s subtle, but it matters to me.”
“I’m sorry your dog couldn’t be here,” The Five-Year-Old said.
Regular readers will already know that Cathy’s design was inspired in part by her new Dalmatian puppy, Trooper. The Five-Year-Old, who adores dogs, had high hopes of interviewing Trooper in person. Unfortunately, Trooper is still far too enthusiastic about life to be trusted in an ice cream shop, and as it was a fairly warm day, Cathy felt it was best to leave him comfortably at home, rather than sitting in the car outside.
Since she was modeling her rabbit after a Dalmatian, Cathy took great care to keep her circles round, not oval. “I didn’t want people to think about the Easter Bunny and eggs,” she said.
To acquire that perfectly round shape, Cathy searched her house for round objects that she could use as templates. “I knew what diameter I wanted and, with tape measure in hand, hunted for objects around the house that fit the bill. Then I traced them onto rubberized shelving paper and cut them out,” Cathy told us.
That way she could trace something that could curve to follow the contours of the three-dimensional rabbit.
“Circular shapes have been coming into my art a lot lately,” Cathy mused, as she showed us a portfolio of her previous work.
On the Regal Rabbit, the curves add personality and whimsy to the rabbit’s expression. Cathy uses the circular shapes to give energy and expression to her other work as well.
“Did you mess up at all?” The Five-Year-Old wanted to know.
“Not at the end,” Cathy said. “Once I put a spot on the rabbit and it started to slide, so I had to push it back and hold it until it dried. And sometimes I would get marks on the rabbit from wet paint on my hand. I would have to wait until the marks dried, then paint over them.”
Like every artist in the Dedham Public Art Project, Cathy had submitted her original concept to Dedham Shines on an 8″ by 10″ piece of paper. When it came time to translate her design onto a three-dimensional rabbit, she had a much larger area to cover. Which meant adding several spots that hadn’t been in the original design. Fortunately Cathy had kept detailed notes on what she had traced the circles from so she could easily make more.
Although Cathy played around with the design in her head for two months before submitting her idea to Dedham Shines, actually painting the rabbit only took twelve days. Twelve very hot days which Cathy spent in her garage painting the rabbit under the scrutiny of her neighbors. “My neighbors kept passing by and peeking at me. One day someone finally got the nerve to ask what I was doing and then the entire neighborhood knew what I was up to.”
- Through the Lens of The Five-Year-Old: The Bunny at East Dedham Shopping Plaza (caterpickles.com)
- See The Five-Year-Old’s entire body of work on the Dedham Public Art Project (Caterpickles)
- Online and iPhone-friendly Map to the Dedham Bunnies (everytrail.com)