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Student artwork goes on display, then up for sale, for Maryland SPCA donations

Landry Neal’s papier-mache dog, Blue, has zany pipe cleaner spirals for eyes and spots. But the artist included some true-to-life touches from its inspiration: a bright green tennis ball in the dog’s mouth, and a big, wagging tongue.

“I tried to make it abstract,” said Landry, a seventh-grader at Perry Hall Middle School. “But I kept the tennis ball. I thought it was cool, and I wanted the tongue to show.”

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On Sunday, the 12-year-old got to see her newspaper-and-tape creation on exhibit along with about 1,700 other pieces of student artwork.

Displays featuring cats and dogs of every color, variety and medium filled one wing of the White Marsh Mall during the fifth annual Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Kindness for Paws Art Show and Sale.

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The Maryland SPCA's annual celebration, previously known as "March for the Animals," is moving to Port Covington and getting re-named 'Festival for the Animals'

Students, their families, Maryland SPCA volunteers and others wound their way through the exhibit. Art could be purchased for a name-your-price donation to the charity.

Gabby Smelcer, another Perry Hall seventh-grader, arrived one minute after the exhibit began. After an exhaustive search for her piece — a spotted, brown dog with floppy ears — she and her mother, Nancy, checked the auction table at the front.

“It was already gone,” Nancy Smelcer said. “Somebody bought it.”

The event began as a service project proposed by Perry Hall Middle School art teacher Molly Schappel. Students are given pictures of pets up for adoption, and asked to create artwork of them in a medium of their choosing.

“Unfortunately, we do have an animal abuse problem in our community,” said Katie Flory, the SPCA’s Humane Education Director. “This is one of the many steps we take to teach the next generation about kindness to animals.”

The project raises students’ awareness of animal abuse, and has raised more than $5,000 for homeless and hurting pets in the past five years. This year’s contributions weren’t fully counted as of Sunday evening, but Flory estimated attendees donated about $3,000.

The program has grown to include 16 other schools: Calvert School, the Green School of Baltimore, Holabird Academy, Hawthorne Elementary, City Neighbors High, City Neighbors Charter School, City Neighbors Hamilton, Cockeysville Middle, Joppatowne Elementary, John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle, Monarch Academy, Middle River Middle, Guilford Elementary/Middle, Holy Angels Catholic School, Grange Elementary and Oakland Mills Middle.

Katlyn Fincke, a kindergarten teacher at Holabird, likened her 25 students’ amateur art work to that of Jackson Pollock, the pioneering abstract expressionist.

This was her class’ first year participating in the project, she said, and it coincided nicely with a curriculum unit focusing on empathy.

“This is the most engaged I’ve seen our kids all year,” Fincke said.

As she spoke, one of her students, 6-year-old Alexa Gonzales-Amaya ran up and hugged her with a giant smile on her face. Alexa pointed out her painting of a white dog with a blue collar, set against a brown background.

With a little prompting from her teacher, Alexa shared her artistic process. Yes, she nodded, she remembered blending the red and white paint to make the pink for the ears.

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But while the brown background represents dirt, Alexa said, the dog isn’t rolling around in it.

“He’s with somebody, walking,” she explained.

Molly Ashland, a student-teacher in Fincke’s class, said students who have difficulty in other areas, such as math or reading, excelled in the art project.

“You see them flourish in the excitement of talking about animals and dogs,” Ashland said. “We’re so proud of the work they do.”

Laura and Joe Meyers didn’t have a child with artwork in the show. But the Sparrows Point couple has a pair of rescues at home: a boxer and a pit bull mix.

“We figured, ‘It’s a rainy Sunday; let’s go see some art,’” Laura Meyers said. “It’s for a good cause.”

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