When Peachy, her beloved Lhasa Apso, died after 16 years as a favored family member, it took almost a decade before Martha Cares found the emotional courage to adopt another pet.
But as a big believer in animal rescue organizations—it was one such group that connected her with Peachy—Cares often stopped by the Humane Society on her birthday to say hello to the animals in custodial care there. She also scrolled through Save A Stray, Pet Finder and other online adoption groups looking at abandoned and mistreated animals.
Call it a type of pet karma or just plain luck but one day while surfing animal rescue sites Cares found Posey, a five month old Glen of Imaal Terrier whose photo and bio had just been posted on Save-A-Stray.
“Often those animals are in locations far away but this one was in St. Joseph,” says Cares who lives about 15 miles south of St. Joe in Sawyer with her husband, Fritz Olsen.
One of four Irish terrier breeds, Glen of Imaal terriers are cute as can be with short floppy ears and a button noses. Not well known, they’re docile family pets from the lowlands of County Wicklow, bred to keep homes free from varmints, hunt badgers (no, not the University of Wisconsin kind) and, of all things, turn the spit on meat roasting over an open fire. Though Cares and Olsen are unlikely to have Posey doing any of these chores, their dog has certainly found a purpose in life beyond just being adored.
That’s because Cares, an opera singer with a career that has included more than 1000 performances in Phantom of the Opera national Broadway production directed by the famed Harold Prince, singing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Florida Grand Opera and the Grant Park Music Festival, and winning the Grand Prize for the International Bel Canto Opera Competition, is also a visual artist, something she says people don’t often know about her.
“It’s great for a singer to have time to be doing quiet work,” she says. And in these quiet times, she decided to make a metal cut-out of a Glen of Imaal terrier who friends immediately said captured the essence of Posey.
“I just did this little dog,” says Cares explaining how a whimsical idea on her part has exploded into a frenzied high demand. “I asked Fritz to help me cut it out which he did.”
An aside here is in order. Fritz Olsen is not only Cares’ husband but also a nationally renowned sculptor. His permanent museum collections include "Garden Window II," Kohl Children's Museum of Greater Chicago, "Prosperity Ribbon" - Brauer Museum, Valparaiso, “Bouquet” at the Krasl Museum, St. Joseph and "Aviary," Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve, Niles, Michigan. He also has created public commission sculptures for such places as Westin Resorts in Rancho Mirage, California and closer to home for the Marie Yeager Cancer Center in St. Joseph, Michigan and at Lakeland Medical Center.
Their collaborative effort produced sculptures looking like colorful silhouettes of Poppy—floppy ears, tail ready to wag and all. Adding black smudges for eyes and nose, Cares got raves for her design.
“I gave them great bright happy colors,” she says of the three-dimensional sculptural forms made of heavy gage steel which she entered into the 2012 ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids—her first entry in that contest. That particular large-scale piece consisted of five inter-locked dog silhouettes each painted a bold color—red, orange, yellow, blue and green that remind us of early childhood finger painting experiences and were prominently displayed in front of the fountain at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum on the Grand River.
Naming her entry “My Rescue,” Cares described it as being “an installation of a grouping of steel forms which are playful, approachable and happy. Each sculpture will weigh approximately 200 lbs, stand 4 feet in height and will be safe for outdoor placement. The number of forms, colors and final sizes are to be determined. My parameters are flexible, depending upon the space provided.”
The following year Cares was back, this time with “Homeward Bound - Happily Ever Rescued,” a similar large-scale sculpture consisting of inter-locked kitty silhouettes.
It didn’t take long for her phone to start ringing.
“After the exhibitions, I got calls from Humane Societies and animal rescues organizations all over the country,” says Cares. “They were asking me all about them.”
Though Cares, who describes herself as sleep-deprived, was still singing—you might have heard her voice in McDonald’s and United Airlines advertising campaigns—as well as working on other art projects and even contemplating writing another children’s book, she decided to start channel all the fervor from her sculptures into an consciousness raising campaign about the plight of homeless and ill treated animals and so she founded My Rescue.
“In creating and exhibiting My Rescue, I hope to spark a dialogue of awareness,” she writes on her organization’s Website myrescuedogs.org. “In America, six to eight million animals are taken in by rescue organizations and shelters each year. Saving the precious life of an animal through volunteering, adoption or donation moves well beyond rescue of a fellow living creature, for through these generous acts of love, we too are rescued.”
This isn’t the only time Cares and Olson have stepped forward to help. The couple restored a 1939 azalea greenhouse at 6914 W Holloway Drive in Sawyer where they have their studios and an art gallery. Here one can find Cares’ works as well as Olsen’s original sculptures in stone, bronze and steel along with works of other artists in a variety of mediums such as high-fired clay. On property is a marvelous outdoor sculpture garden which is open for tours—a further way of extending art appreciation. The couple also often hosts a holiday charity event where 100 percent of the proceeds go to Radio Harbor Country, WRHC-LP, 106.7 FM, a local station with a mission that includes fostering an appreciation for the arts. Cares has also been involved in fundraising and the arts through Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, nonprofit, grant-making organization which in part raises money for AIDS service associations.
Taking her My Rescue to the next level, Cares says she is now incorporating her little “rescue animals” into other mixed media pieces—key chains, necklaces, rings and other jewelry, t-shirts, note cards and eight inch tall dogs sculpted out high quality welded steel in a myriad of colors--red, yellow, orange, spotted, white, blue, green, pink and silver. Sales benefit humane societies and animal organizations in the area.
“Now people are asking me to make a book too,” says Cares who at the time we spoke was getting ready for an installation of several of her sculptures at a park in Michigan and whose dogs were also part of the opening reception for the 2014 Krasl Art Center Biennial Sculpture Invitational. “All this. I don’t ever sleep.”
But lack of sleep aside, if what she’s doing helps connect a needy animal with a loving human, it’s worth it as far as Cares is concerned.
“Wonders of this beautiful world, its resources and its inhabitants abound with every breath, every gesture, every glance,” writes Cares about how important and transforming the arts and animals are in our loves. “As individuals and as a whole we have the ability to make positive changes and help others. Aesthetic expression, whether realized through music, the visual arts, dance, literature or the performing arts holds the power to transport, change, influence and enrich our lives, and those sharing our wondrous planet.”