Bethesda gallery goes to the dogs — and the kids

Burning Tree students auction their own art for animal shelter

Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2007

Click here to enlarge this photo
photo courtesy of Discovery Gallery
Burning Tree Elementary School third-graders Olivia Reyna (left) and Micaela Pereira show off the pet portraits that they painted to benefit the Washington Animal Rescue League.

At just 8 years old, Ethan Sorcher is already a professional artist and philanthropist. With a painting sold and gallery show under his belt, the Burning Tree Elementary School third-grader has generously contributed the money from selling his art to the Washington Animal Rescue League.

‘‘It’s pretty cool,” Ethan said.

‘‘You’ve got to get it in perfect shape because people [are] going to buy it,” he said of his work.

But Ethan isn’t alone. Earlier this month, 90 Burning Tree third-graders participated in a project called Painting for Paws, coordinated by Julie Band, gallery manager at Discovery Gallery in Bethesda, and Scotlund Haisley, executive director of the Washington Animal Rescue League.

For the project, students learned about the Washington Animal Rescue League, which takes care of abused and abandoned animals. Then, they went onto the organization’s Web site, picked out one of the pets and painted its portrait. The portraits were then displayed in a show at Discovery Gallery and auctioned. The proceeds — more than $5,000 — were donated to WARL.

‘‘In the 10 years I’ve been here, this is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Band said.

She and Haisley came up with the idea after meeting in the gallery one day, she said. He had come in during an antique poster show looking for a poster with an animal theme. The two began talking and the idea for a benefit began to take shape.

But Band wanted to do more than just a typical gallery charity event, she said.

‘‘In everything I do, I always want to take it to the next level,” she said.

From a previous project, Band already knew Burning Tree third-grade teacher Stephanie Hill. She contacted Hill and asked if she wanted to get the students involved.

The project began with a visit to the third grade from Haisley and a dog that had been rescued from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

After that, each student had time to use a computer at school to find and research a pet that they would paint.

Ethan’s portrait subject was a dog named Energizer. Students also attached a slip of paper with information and an actual picture of each pet to the back of their canvases.

‘‘It really brought them closer to the animals,” Band said. ‘‘It was like their own pet they were trying to help out.”

The paintings were on display at the gallery for 10 days. Then on Dec. 9 Band held a dog adoption event at Discovery Gallery, where dogs from the shelter were on site for people to meet. That was followed by a reception and auction during which each of the third-graders’ paintings were bid on.

‘‘I was really surprised,” Band said. ‘‘More than 50 percent of the people who bid on these paintings had nothing to do with Burning Tree.”

In some cases, parents who wanted to buy their own children’s paintings were outbid by others, she said.

‘‘People really loved bidding on these paintings,” she said. ‘‘There’s a kind of innocence to them and in a sense, you’re almost adopting the pet yourself.”

In addition to the children’s paintings, Band had several of the artists represented by the gallery to paint doggy bandanas, which were also auctioned, and she said a percentage of that day’s sales at the gallery were donated to WARL. In all, the benefit raised $5,269.

The project was something new for the rescue league, said Jim Monsma, WARL director of communications.

‘‘This was pretty unique,” he said. ‘‘We have a lot of kids groups, Boy Scout troops and Girl Scout troops, who want to come in here and do something to help animals, but this was really unique in that it involved art and kids using their creativity.”

It was also unusual in the amount of money it raised, he said.‘‘They are giving our adult fund raisers some competition,” he said. ‘‘They raised a formidable amount of money.”

The day was a success for everyone involved, Band said.

‘‘The business benefits because you’re getting people in here,” she said. ‘‘And people are able to spend not a lot of money and they get something back and do something good.”

Band and Haisley are currently planning another Painting for Paws project with another school that will take place on Feb. 17 at Discovery Too gallery in Bethesda.

Band hopes that Painting for Paws will become a model project for elementary school students to do something to help animal shelters around the country.

‘‘I thought it would start local,” she said, ‘‘But I’d really like this to grow.”

Monsma agreed.

‘‘It was a wonderful thing for the shelter, for the gallery and for the kids,” he said, ‘‘but the ultimate beneficiaries are the animals. These animals that we have are totally forgotten by the public and they need all the friends they can get.”