A funny thing happened on Gail Kelley’s way to becoming an artist: She got sidetracked into a long career in retail and, for the past 21 years, as the owner of a Two Men and a Truck franchise.
But the Clintonville resident never lost the creative spark that led her, a native of the greater Pittsburgh area, to enroll as an art major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s. Kelley returned to school later in life, graduating with a fine arts degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 2009.
“It took me, like, seven years to do that, around work and all that other stuff,” she said last week.
Beginning this week, Kelley’s work is on display during an exhibit titled “The Dog Days of Summer” at Weiland’s Market, 3600 Indianola Ave. The display in the wine section will continue through Wednesday, Sept. 3.
Kelley will be on hand at the market to discuss her dog portraits with customers from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30.
This will be the second art exhibit at the grocery store through an arrangement between owner Jennifer Williams and the Clintonville Arts Guild.
Other shows by various guild members are planned in September, October and December, Williams said.
“Art doesn’t have anything to do with food, necessarily, but our customers responded really well to the last one and ask all the time when the next one is going to be,” she said.
The first exhibition was a one-day show in June of the works of several local painters.
“I kind of like the idea of a little bit of a longer art display,” Williams said.
“The Dog Days of Summer” came about after Kelley sent an inquiry to Weiland’s.
“She shops in the store,” Williams said. “She’s one of our customers, so she just emailed and said, ‘Would you be interested in this?’ ”
“Jennifer didn’t even pause,” Kelley said. “It’s amazingly wonderful. She just immediately said yes.”
Kelley’s specialty of dog portraits came about more or less by accident. While studying at CCAD, she knew she wanted to paint oils, but also liked the idea of working with clients.
“Pets, although they were always at my feet, I really didn’t think of them that much,” Kelley said.
She and her husband, John, have two English setters, Bella and Bogart.
“One’s very smart and one’s very lovable,” she said.
Naturally, she had completed paintings of the pair, but it wasn’t until the owner of the Park Your Paws doggie daycare center on Indianola Avenue, where Kelley sometimes parks her pets, suggested she display the works there back in 2011 that the idea of pet portraits took hold.
Through that display, Kelley said, she made connections with local shelters and rescue organizations, sometimes providing paintings to be offered at fundraising auctions.
“This is fun,” Kelley said. “I literally haven’t given a painting to someone who hasn’t been happy. I get people all the time who say to me, ‘It looks just like my pet.’ I think what they’re really saying to me is, ‘It feels like my pet.’ ”
Kelley mostly works from photographs, but whenever possible, she likes to get some face time with the subjects of her works.
“If I can meet the animal, it’s always better for me,” she said. “In about a half-hour, I can talk to the owner and look at the owner interact with that dog and I can figure out what is special to that person about their dog. I don’t just want to take a photo and make a copy of it. I just want to take the photo as a reference.”