Many artists find their work a solitary pursuit with the public seeing only the finished product – not the effort and the struggles and the process that brought the piece to fruition.
Susan Griffin, a Mint Hill artist and former public school art teacher, recently had a different experience. Dr. Janet Gerardot, owner of Mint Hill Animal Clinic, commissioned Griffin to paint a mural on a clinic wall.
“We added the boarding facility to our clinic last fall and wanted to up-fit our waiting area as well. (Coley Ballew, customer relations supervisor) and I were talking and decided we needed a mural on the wall to make the area more appealing,” Gerardot said.
“Our original idea was to have it all silhouettes. Somehow, with Susan involved, it turned all colorful and exploded into a dog park.”
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Griffin said the piece evolved as she was constantly adding a dog, a cat, or another piece of agility equipment. She gave herself a crash course in different breeds, and relied on clinic staff to help point out errors and inconsistencies.
Gerardot said she’s heard nothing but positive comments since Griffin started painting.
“Our clients love the mural. They tell me they see something new each time they look at it,” Gerardot said.
That could be because it took Griffin four months to complete the work, complete with 19 dogs, five cats, three butterflies, two bluebirds and one red-headed woodpecker.
Granted, she wasn’t at the clinic everyday, but says much of her time there was spent, and much of the fun was had, talking to the dozens of clients who frequented the office each day.
“It was a little strange painting in front of people at first because I could feel them staring at me, and I always imagined they were looking at the wall with a critical eye. But at the same time, that was the fun part. They would look to see if their dog was on the wall, and sometimes they would imagine it was their dog up there whether it was or not,” Griffin said.
“They would tell me about their animals, sometimes about their lives, and they would make suggestions about the mural. What color the ball should be, what kind of dog I should draw next, and so on. I think just about everybody that came here while I was painting felt like they were a part of the creative process.”
She said she will never forget two particular encounters.
One day two adults and a little girl came in with a dog that was probably never going to go home again. The little girl was immediately attracted to the wall and the open paint, but was quickly called into the exam room with her mother.
Not a minute later, the mom came out and asked if Griffin would mind watching the child a few minutes while the adults dealt with a difficult situation. Griffin gave the little girl a washable crayon and, to the horror of the staff and other clients waiting, encouraged her to write on the wall.
“It was so funny to see their faces as she scribbled across the wall. Of course, I then showed her how to wash it off with water. But it kept her busy until her mom was done, and I gave her the crayon to take home with her,” Griffin said.
Another day a dog walked through the clinic door, stopped in its tracks when it saw the golden retriever on the wall, and started barking.
“The whole process was a learning experience for me, and I got to make so many new friends,” Griffin said.
Ballew says she’s a little sad to see the work completed.
“It was so much fun having Susan here and watching her work. I’ve threatened to get a bucket of paint and a brush to make the wall white again so she has to start over,” Ballew said.
said she’s noticed a difference in the waiting area since the mural brought the space to life.
“The other day there was a row of adults waiting with their animals and just looking at the art on the walls. Not one of them was focused on their phone, and that’s unheard these days,” Geradot said.
“We installed the aquarium a few years ago because it is supposed to be soothing. But the mural is now the focus. It’s like ‘Bam.’ It’s just wonderful.”
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.