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Edmonton art workshop embarks on a pet project

November 18, 2015

Nancy Friesen and her 16-month-old son, Liam, drop by the McMullen Gallery’s workshop to say hello to therapy dog Gurdy.

Therapy dogs used as subjects for patient artwork

Photo by Shelly Willsey

Sit. Shake a paw. Roll over. Strike a pose. Good dog.

Pet therapy dogs in Edmonton will be multi-tasking over the next few weeks, as they are volunteering their time to model during weekly, drop-in art workshops at the University of Alberta Hospital (UAH) McMullen Gallery in Edmonton.

Normally, pet therapy dogs are brought into hospitals to help calm, comfort and cheer up patients. Until Dec. 6, they’ll also act as potential subjects for workshop participants, including patients, hospital staff and members of the general public.

The use of pet therapy dogs coincides with the gallery’s current exhibit, Songs of the Soul. It features Father Douglas’s surreal portraits of dogs inspired by a collection of poems written in two parts by poet and artist William Blake called The Songs of Innocence and The Songs of Experience.

“Having a live model really enhances the experience and adds extra appeal to the workshops,” says gallery manager Tyler Sherard.

“We try to increase the quality of life for patients and their families. Besides taking their mind to a different place and learning new skills, this helps bring people back to who they really are.”

The gallery is operated by the Friends of University Hospitals as part of the Arts in Healthcare program.

Every Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., guest artists lead free workshops where participants of all ages are able to drop in and casually participate and learn new creative skills, including pastel drawing, sun-print photography, collage or self-portraiture.

The drop-in Studio Program is a welcome diversion from the hospital experience, and a good opportunity to visit the McMullen Gallery and create art at no cost.

Workshop participant Jeanne Ho has been to several of the sessions.

“I’m cooped up in my hospital room a lot,” she says, “and this makes me enjoy my stay more.”

Pet therapy dog handler Lori Goodwin says her English bulldog, Gurdy, is loving the extra responsibility.

“She loves the attention,” says Goodwin. “It’s awesome to see everyone’s reaction to her – it doesn’t matter what age (the artists) are, everyone loves the dogs.”