Feline Perspectives

Cat Art Show returns to Howland Library

The last few years have been hard: A pandemic, an insurrection, polarization and inflation.

It was time, Jean Noack reasoned, for the cats to return to the Howland Library. So, the library is bringing back its Cat Art Show.  

“There are cat art shows in big cities like Los Angeles, so why not Beacon?” the curator explained. “It’s fun, it’s campy, we get some quality artwork out in front of the community and we make donations to local cat shelters and charities.”

A photo taken by Peter McGivney

A photo taken by Peter McGivney

There’s a proven track record: The previous Cat Art Show, in 2017, was the biggest art opening the Howland Library in Beacon had ever had. Artists donated the proceeds from works they sold to a local animal charity of their choice, raising $800 in total contributions. 

Proceeds from sales by the 23 local artists involved in this year’s show will again go to such organizations as Mid-Hudson Animal Aid, The Animal Rights Alliance (TARA,) and Newburgh’s Talk To Me About Cats. But unlike the 2017 show, Noack made sure to recruit more male artists. 

"Demon," photo by William A. Loeb

“Demon,” photo by William A. Loeb

“I didn’t want us to sound like a bunch of crazy cat ladies,” she said with a laugh. “This time there were more male artists that were willing to step up and show their love for cats.”

“Dark Angel,” painting by Mary Fetherolf

“Dark Angel,” painting by Mary Fetherolf

There’s more than one way to portray a cat. The show features cats being charming, cats being menacing, cats eyeing each other longingly and cats hanging precariously from things they probably should not be hanging from. There is even, should you want to construct one yourself, a set of cat blueprints. Those who labor under the impression that cats only have two moods — aloof and asleep —  are in for some surprises. 

“Once you have a cat, you really understand what different personalities they all have,” said Jan Dolan, who contributed work based on her cat Tom Tom. 

“He’s got a very strong personality,” she said of her subject. “He’s the best cat I’ve ever had, but he runs my life.”

The painter Anna West has no cats: Her partner is allergic, and she’s seen what unsanitary things they can do in one’s garden. But last year, before undergoing knee surgery, she figured that a new art project would help her think about things other than hospitals and scalpels. 

West had never painted cats before, but accepted commissions to portray other people’s pets. One of those works, entitled “Black Cats Are Best,” is featured in the show. Black cats are also, as she found out, very hard to paint. 

“Getting any detail in their fur is challenging,” she said. “That’s why I picked it, because I wanted the challenge. I like dogs, too, but cat scenes are a perfect subject.”

“Black Cats Are Best,” painting by Anna West

“Black Cats Are Best,” painting by Anna West

As for Noack’s contribution to the show, it may appear at first glance to have nothing to do with cats. But any cat owner who peers closer at the abstract feltwork’s details will immediately realize: That’s not wool.

Jean Noack demonstrates "wet felting" with cat fur. Photo provided

Jean Noack demonstrates “wet felting” with cat fur. (Photo provided)

Noack took a weeklong class in “wet felting” at the Fletcher Farm School for the Art and Crafts in Vermont, and while the school did not mention the possibility of using cat fur instead of sheep’s wool in the process, “you find some crazy things on the internet,” said Noack. “I figured, why the heck not?”

With three cats of her own, Noack had no shortage of free material to work with. She brushed her cats until she had enough fur to fill a cup (“That didn’t take long,” she noted), then sprayed the fur with water and soap while pressing it between two sheets of bubble wrap until it became felt.

“It really works!” she said. “I don’t think I’d make a scarf or winter hat out of it, but there’s possibilities there in terms of art. You might as well use it; it’s all going to end up on your floor anyway if you don’t.”

The Cat Art Show is on display at the Howland Public Library at 313 Main St. in Beacon until July 30. An opening reception, featuring a cat cake and Kit Kats, will be held Saturday (July 8) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. as part of Second Saturday. 

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