Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Bless the beasts and the artists who love them

Discovery Too holds benefit exhibition for animal rescue group

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Courtesy of Discovery Too
Painter William Manley's ‘‘Nawlins Stoop” represents the artist’s many years living in New Orleans. After losing his home, he has moved to Maryland.
From the moment Scotlund Haisley arrived in New Orleans some five days after Hurricane Katrina, he knew this rescue mission would be different from his previous ones. The Washington Animal Rescue League’s executive director was sure he had seen it all. But even now, two years later, this tough guy tears up recalling the horrors he witnessed.

The surreal craziness began at a checkpoint through which only rescuers could pass into the devastated areas. Once the hordes of people milling around learned Haisley’s team was rescuing pets, some ‘‘60 people, throwing their house keys along with bits of paper with addresses and cell phone numbers” stormed them. Unable to return to their homes, they were desperate to find someone who could help their pets.

In the end, Haisley’s team saved some 1,000 animals, and brought 200 homeless dogs and cats to D.C. A happy ending? Not on your life. Katrina’s wrath continues. A post-hurricane puppy and kitten boom hit New Orleans and its surrounding districts. And again, the rescue league is off on its 11th mission, hoping to bring back as many pets as can be packed into two vans. Driving a couple of vans down is the inexpensive part; the medical treatments promise to set the league back some $25,000.

This is where art comes into the picture. A convergence of saintly souls — in the form of three artists and the Discovery Too art gallery in Bethesda — is holding a benefit exhibit ‘‘Lest We Forget: Three Perspectives on Hurricane Katrina” through Aug. 29. At least half the profits are earmarked for the rescue league, gallery manager Jennifer Smith promises.

These aren’t just any old artists; each knows the hurricane’s aftermath intimately. Three-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Carol Guzy will show some 70 images from her year there, on leave from the Washington Post. Haisley is also a painter; for this show, he used many of Guzy’s images as inspiration to capture the terror he saw in a dog’s eyes as it struggled to swim toward safety. Rounding out the show is William Manley, a successful New Orleans painter who lost everything and is now struggling to remake his life in Maryland. Many of his brilliantly colored acrylics depict a happier New Orleans, with yawning front stoops and languid architectural landscapes.

Eye of the storm

Like many other photographers, Guzy went to New Orleans to document Katrina’s virulent rampage. Unlike the journalists who covered human suffering, she wanted to offer a glimpse of how the devastation affected domesticated animals.

Having photographed genocide in Kosovo and suffering in Haiti, Guzy admits to using her camera as a shield. As in those previous experiences, she paid an [emotional] price. ‘‘I was an eye witness to thousands of suffering animals.”

Amid the chaos, Guzy connected with her good friend Haisley, and asked to accompany the rescuers. She documented the group as they picked up animals and fed and gave water to wandering strays.

The experience also took its toll on Haisley. After running on adrenalin for 10 consecutive days, he broke down on the plane returning to D.C. After getting counseling, he realized ‘‘it was time to paint what I saw.”

Manley has a different point of view. A successful painter living in the Holy Cross Historical District in New Orleans for some 20 years, this D.C. transplant was accustomed to hurricanes. The artist figured he’d drive maybe 60 miles inland and ride out the storm in a Wal-Mart and return within a few days. Instead, he became a refugee, finally driving to Maryland to stay with his family.

The artist hasn’t the funds to return and remains severely traumatized by the experience. Manley is living with his standard poodle in a small trailer behind his brother’s home. He has found fulfillment in working with delinquent young men.

‘‘It is a different world. I can forget about everything else,” he says.

With his work selling quickly at the gallery, he continues to make artistic strides.

Let us hope art will help the healing process.

‘‘Lest We Forget: Three Perspectives on Hurricane Katrina,” a benefit for the Washington Animal Rescue League, is on view at Discovery Too, 7247 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, through Aug. 29. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. An opening reception is planned for Saturday, 7 to 11 p.m. Call 301- 913-9101.