By: Chad Smith
This is a guest post. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of PXLFY.com
About today’s artist interview…
We’re sitting down for this interview with Washington D.C. pet photographer, J.B. Shepard, to discuss his recent public art installation “Dog Avenue“. The installation has been described as a walking art gallery. It features 19 fun portraits of local dogs. All of the dogs featured in the Dog Avenue display are personal pets of business owners and merchants located in Hampden — voted Baltimore’s most dog friendly neighborhood.
Hey J.B., how’s things going these days? Thanks for sitting with me today.
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me!
Sure thing, my pleasure. So I’ve noticed that you’ve been pretty busy lately, that you’re working on a series of street banners for the avenue in Hampden. Can you tell me a little more about what you’ve been up to?
The banners are part of an ongoing public art installation spearheaded by Dan Harvey from Cotton Duck Title Co. in Hampden called the “Light Pole Banner Project” or LPBA for short. This year’s theme is titled “Dog Avenue”.
Interesting, was this Dan’s idea or your own?
Dan approached me about a year and a half ago looking for guidance on the production front. He saw a need for art, but wasn’t sure exactly how to go about getting it up there.
After walking him through some of the technical requirements, he asked if I had any ideas of what we might put on display. Being a pet photographer, I thought it might be fun to post a bunch of giant dog photos along the Avenue.
Awesome, but why dogs?
Taking photos of dogs is kind of my thing — it’s why I opened the Puptrait Studio. So, if I was going to get involved with production it seemed like the obvious route to take. Plus, who doesn’t like dogs?
Haha, that’s true. So when you set out to create the banners, did you know what direction you’d take right off the bat, or did it develop over time?
The design of the banners has evolved a bit since we began. The original theme was a bit more colorful. The initial idea was a rainbow of colors running along the Avenue, with each banner representing a different hue coming together to form a gradient.
But we realized once we started photographing all of the different pups that it made more sense to run with a more neutral color palette and let the dogs really shine front and center. Plus the new design scheme freed us a bit to be more creative with placement.
Which we thought was important, as each of the dogs has direct ties to different parts of the neighborhood.
So, all the dogs are actually from the neighborhood?
Yeah, that was the idea. We wanted to create something that represented the neighborhood. All of the pups featured along Dog Avenue are personal pets of merchants from the Hampden Village Merchants Association (HVMA). Only 19 dogs made the final list, but over 22 different businesses in the neighborhood volunteered their pets for the project. It really was a team effort.
That’s a really fun idea. I’m not from Hampden, I live over in Highlandtown. Can you tell me what the HVMA does for the neighborhood?
The HVMA is a loose group of businesses from around the neighborhood. Last I checked we had just shy of 200 organizations participating as members and that list includes most of the shops, restaurants and professional services in the neighborhood.
They get together once a month to vote on different issues facing the neighborhood, look to find ways to promote the area, raise funds for our local family center and other charities, and generally speaking are a way for local business owners to find support and help each other.
One of my favorite things about this project was that it gave me personally a chance to finally meet the people behind these great organizations. They’re by and large a pretty amazing group of people. And, when you meet them individually, you can tell that they really care about the well being of Hampden as a whole.
Sounds like a really supportive group. I’ve noticed that there’s a logo at the top of each banner. It looks like a map of the city of Baltimore transformed into a paw print. When did you create the logo, and what were you thinking about when you decided on it?
That’s part of a side project I’ve been working on called the PawCity Project. As you noticed, it’s part Baltimore pride. Part celebration of pups. We’ve been steadily working on getting it out there. You’ll find it hidden throughout the city, usually in places where dogs are welcome.
Now that we have the banner project wrapped up, I’m hoping I can use some of my new found free time to start tagging more dog friendly locations — with permission from the owners, of course.
Nice, so dog owners should keep a look-out for any paw prints outside of businesses in the future.
Yeah, that’s the idea. We’re still looking for participating vendors and venues to join the project. Dog Avenue was our official inaugural installation. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you start seeing PawCity prints popping up across Baltimore in the next few months.
If you know anyone who manages or operates a business or service that welcomes dogs, by all means, send them over. We’re always looking for new dog friendly spots to add to the project!
Will do! Real quick before we finish up: are there any other message or meaning behind the banners that I haven’t asked about?
That’s really it. It’s a pretty simple design. All it represents really is pups and Baltimore pride. I think that’s why both the merchants and residents in the neighborhood took to the project. We have a lot of divergent viewpoints and personalities in Hampden. It’s hard to imagine them all agreeing on much. But everyone seems to dig dogs. In all actuality, we would not have been able to pull this off without their support. We did this one by the numbers, permits and all — which required letters of support from both the HVMA and the Hampden Community Council.
Not to mention we had to find a way to pay for it all. As you might imagine, printing and hanging twenty 8’ tall banners wasn’t cheap. Every shop represented by a dog in the project contributed to making it happen.
Our featured sponsors – BluePit BBQ, Sugar, Falkenhan’s Hardware, Holy Frijoles, Cotton Duck Title Co. and the Puptrait Studio – all made considerable contributions to this year’s LPBA installation. Without their support we never would have been able to drag this project to the finish line. I really can’t thank each one of them enough.
That’s awesome! It sounds like a huge effort to enliven the neighborhood with something that everyone loves. Why do you think the sponsors were so excited to get behind the project?
That’s a good question. You’re probably best asking each of them directly. But if I had to speculate, I’d imagine it’s because they value the neighborhood they’re located in. That’s one of the great, almost magical things about Hampden. If you look down the Avenue, you’ll notice that for all the different types of businesses located here, the one thing you don’t fine are huge corporate chains.
I think there’s a certain pride that comes with being an independent shop based solely in a single neighborhood. For them, Hampden isn’t just another up and coming market that needs to be tapped. Hampden is their home.
Take Falkenhan’s for example, they’re a multi-generation family owned business that has been located in the same building for longer than I’ve even been alive. And, I think when you’ve been around that long, you can’t help but want to see your neighborhood look great and succeed. After all, rising tides raise all ships.
And, these are all dog friendly shops and businesses?
Anyone that has ever been to Hampden knows, this is a super dog friendly neighborhood. Traffic in the area is fairly calm (especially for being located within the city) and when you get off of the Avenue, most of the sidewalks are actually grass lined.
What visitors may not realize is that most of the shops here welcome welcome behaved canine guests. And, even those that can’t due to health code concerns are very passionate about dog causes.
A great example of this is our sponsor Blue Pit BBQ. While not what you would traditionally consider a pet store or pet service, they do an exceptional job operating with dogs in mind and promoting animal advocacy efforts. In warmer months their back deck serves as essentially an ongoing impromptu Yappy Hour. The owners of the restaurant went so far as to name the restaurant after their Blue Pit Bull Terrier, Sakai. They even donate a dollar from every Old Fashioned Cocktail of the Day to BARCS — Baltimore’s animal control and a nonprofit shelter. You don’t get much more dog friendly than that!
From what you’ve said, it sounds like the businesses around you really think that Hamden is a special place.
It really is. That’s why we’re here. I can’t imagine moving the studio anywhere else.
Is there anywhere online folks can learn more about the project?
We put together a small website at DogAve.com. It features a gallery of photos and bios for each of the dogs included in the project. There are a lot of fun personalities behind these adorable photos. I encourage folks to check it out.
Well hey, thanks so much for meeting with me today. It was great to hear about all of the great things going on around Hampden, and I’m really glad you guys are enjoying the neighborhood. I’ve always loved to visit, and its great to hear that everything is coming alive on the avenue. See you buddy!
Absolutely. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat. It’s always great seeing you.
About Chad Smith: Chad is the founder and creative lead of Smith Design, a freelance graphic design agency based out of Baltimore, Maryland, specializing in crafting unique user experiences and designing user interfaces. He graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in 2006 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design.