Artist cre­ates tiny, soft sculp­tures to memo­ri­al­ize pets

Texarkana Gazette - - ACCENT - By Richard Chin

Star Tri­bune (Min­neapo­lis)

HAST­INGS, Minn.—A lot of peo­ple get emo­tional when they first see the doll­house-sized fig­ures that Lucy Fran­cis makes.

“I cried. It took my breath away,” said Carol Bryant about open­ing the pack­age Fran­cis sent her about 10 years ago.

In­side was a tiny sculp­ture of a dog, a replica of Bryant’s beloved pet, a cocker spaniel named Brandy Noel who had re­cently died.

“It’s like she took my dog and shrunk it down,” said Bryant, a pet blog­ger from Penn­syl­va­nia. “It’s like a me­mo­rial to her.”

That’s how Fran­cis has been mak­ing a liv­ing for the past 20 years, cre­at­ing three-di­men­sional, pocket-size por­traits of dead but not for­got­ten fam­ily pets.

The Hast­ings artist (lucyfran­cis­minia­tures.com) com­bines pieces of fur and fiber, wool and wire, and ends up with a minia­ture, fuzzy model of a dog, of­ten in­cor­po­rat­ing bits of the dog’s hair.

That way the griev­ing dog owner can “feel like they still have a lit­tle bit of them there,”

Fran­cis said.

Fran­cis charges $300 to $2,400 for the cus­tom sculp­tures, de­pend­ing on the size and com­plex­ity. De­mand is strong. She’s sent her dog sculp­tures to 17 coun­tries, from Ja­pan to South Africa. One cus­tomer was a sheikh from Qatar who col­lects minia­tures. She’s cur­rently work­ing on an or­der of sev­eral dogs for a cus­tomer in Por­tu­gal. She’s made minia­tures of some celebrity pets, in­clud­ing dogs owned by Martha Ste­wart, Shirley MacLaine, John Prine and Andrew W.K.

At her home, where she lives with a cairn ter­rier named Bob and a Chi­huahua ter­rier mix named Fred, Fran­cis has shoe boxes filled with plas­tic zip-top bags con­tain­ing tufts of hair sent in by dog own­ers to be used in minia­tures.

One is la­beled “Mer­lin left side neck/rough.” An­other reads, “Lexie ears, legs.”

“The real fur is re­ally im­por­tant to most of the own­ers,” Fran­cis said. “Many of them want it back be­cause it’s trea­sure for them.”

She also uses bits of al­paca fur, camel’s hair, silk, cash­mere and leather to make the minia­tures, bas­ing the mod­els on pho­to­graphs of the real dogs.

Her cus­tomers say she can some­how cap­ture the essence of their an­i­mals in a fuzzy fig­urine just a few inches tall.

“Their fa­cial ex­pres­sions are per­fect. Their poses are per­fect,” said Judy Ersery, of Bloom­ing­ton, Ill., who had Fran­cis du­pli­cate her Brus­sels Grif­fon named Bent­ley and her Mal­tese named Daphne.

The small ver­sions of Bent­ley and Daphne are curled up in a lit­tle dog bed in a scale-model room, just as they did in real life. “It’s com­fort­ing,” Ersery said.

IT’S A SMALL WORLD

Fran­cis works at the in­ter­sec­tion of two com­mu­ni­ties that can seem a lit­tle odd to out­siders: the world of minia­tures, where doll­houses and minia­ture fur­nish­ings can cost as much as the real thing. And the world of pet lovers, where the loss of a four-legged com­pan­ion can be more dev­as­tat­ing than the death of a rel­a­tive.

“The work I like most is deal­ing with the dog own­ers, help­ing them deal with the loss of their pet,” Fran­cis said. “Peo­ple get in that place of grief and they want to see that dog again.”

She said some of her sculp­tures have been done of a pet that died years ago, pur­chased by an owner who is still griev­ing.

One cus­tomer was a woman with ter­mi­nal brain can­cer who emerged from a coma to learn that her sis­ter had given away her bor­zoi hound and she couldn’t get it back. The woman or­dered a replica from Fran­cis.

“She’s go­ing to be buried with that dog,” Fran­cis said.

Amanda Speva, a Chicagob­ased film­maker, filmed Fran­cis for a doc­u­men­tary she is mak­ing about peo­ple who are ob­sessed with minia­ture ob­jects.

“Her work is so beau­ti­ful and mean­ing­ful. The at­ten­tion to the de­tails, the pas­sion for an­i­mals,” Speva said.

Speva said Fran­cis ended up do­ing a minia­ture of her cocker spaniel. The re­sem­blance is “pretty un­canny,” Speva said.

Fran­cis, 65, was a house­wife be­fore be­com­ing a minia­ture dog sculp­tor. She made her first fiber dog model be­cause she wanted to give some­thing to her par­ents af­ter their York­shire ter­rier died.

It turned into a busi­ness af­ter her mod­els started to draw at­ten­tion at craft shows, in mag­a­zines de­voted to hob­by­ists and at con­ven­tions of minia­ture craft mak­ers.

Tri­bune News Ser­vice

■ Lucy Fran­cis works on cre­at­ing a minia­ture replica of a dog from an or­der at her home Aug. 6 in Hast­ings, Minn. Her minia­ture art pieces sell for $300 to $2,400, with some work end­ing up in the hands of celebri­ties such as Martha Ste­wart and Shirley MacLaine.

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