PORT TOWNSEND — Kim Pratt wanted to honor the dogs who have participated in Chimacum Creek Primary School’s Read to Rover program, which she coordinated.
So she learned to paint.
Now the dogs’ painted portraits are on display through this month and next at Elevated Ice Cream, 627 Water St., in Port Townsend.
It wasn’t easy.
Pratt, who coordinated the program for 11 years, decided three years ago to paint portraits of the dogs for the 10th anniversary of the program at the Chimacum school.
“Not having a clue how to paint didn’t quite come up, but serendipitously, a Paint a Pet class was being offered by the extraordinary Julie Read through the Port Townsend School of the Arts,” Pratt said in a press release.
“I had no idea how challenging the project would be, how much heartbreak would transpire throughout its evolution, how wonderful the experience working alongside a brilliant art teacher, and how satisfying it would feel to accomplish such a broad-reaching goal,” she said.
“So many unexpected turns in the road.”
Read to Rover is a program comprised of volunteers and their canine companions.
Both Port Townsend and Quilcene schools also host the program.
The reading program is affiliated with the Olympic Mountain Pet Pals organization, which also serves Pets to People — organized to visit seniors in care centers — as well as assisting with low- or no-cost spay/neuter programs for both cats and dogs, Pratt said.
Teams led by Carla Ellis had visited Chimacum Creek Primary School every Friday for one hour to read with second — and, at times, first — grade students.
“We have been totally heartbroken about the COVID virus for so many reasons, but in particular, the inability to see our kids and share the love of a good book with their furry friends,” Pratt said.
“Port Townsend is attempting a virtual Read In, but Chimacum is hoping to see what spring brings to the table,” she added.
“All of us are keeping our fingers crossed that we will be back at school as soon as we can.”
Pratt had hoped to have the tribute portraits done in one year. Instead, the project took three years. Now 22 dogs — some of which have died or retired — have been immortalized in paint.
In addition to celebrating Read to Rover, the exhibit also is a tribute to the late Christie Johnson, who was a preschool special education/kindergarten teacher at the school, said Pratt, who continued to coordinate the Read to Rover program after she retired in 2016 from her position as the speech/language pathologist in the district for 17 years.
Johnson was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer two years ago, Pratt said. Johnson had to give up teaching, but she volunteered with the Read to Rover program.
“It gave her a reason to fight through the pain and get up each Friday morning with a smile on her face,” Pratt said.
Johnson had a background in art and contributed to the painting project.
She finished three portraits before her death in February last year.
Pratt said the project would not have happened without Read’s “endless patience and skill directing brush strokes upon the canvas, cultivating a sublime color palate and helping to evoke the most soulful of gazes from each canine companion, time and time and time again.”
Read said that her beginner’s “Paint-A-Pet” weekend workshop serves only as an introduction “to a craft that requires time, dedication and hard work to achieve an expected result.
“It’s not even fun all the time to paint,” Read said. “It’s frustrating, heart-breaking and taxing on your brain.”
So when Pratt told her of her plan to paint all the dogs in the Read to Rover program, Read thought, “Well, let’s see if you can make it through just the first one.
“Apparently Kim Pratt is a gal who follows through with a plan, and here it is; she’s done what she set out to do.
“I’ve seen it happen right before my very eyes, witnessed the steady growth in her skill level, sensed her frustrations, watched the re-dos and lurked over her shoulder, coaxing the perfect brush stroke,” Read continued.
“I’ve celebrated the joys of applying sparkles in eyeballs and wiggling ear hairs, which makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
Said Pratt: “It is surreal to finally see this long-awaited project come to fruition.”
Read said she was excited about the show.
“What an amazing project Kim has completed, and a more deserving subject I can’t imagine.”
Elevated Ice Cream is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and follows health guidelines. For more, see elevatedicecream.com.
For more about Read, see artbyjulieread.com.
For more about Olympic Mountain Pet Pals, see http://ompetpals.org.