By James Pouliot
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Bartlet Mall Commission has finalized plans to bring a massive metal art exhibit to the Bartlet Mall in August. Created by sculptor Dale Rogers of Haverhill, the exhibit will consist of 20 steel dogs, each weighing about 500 pounds, placed artfully around the Frog Pond.
The exhibit is a celebration of Newburyport’s 250th anniversary. Newburyport was incorporated as a town in 1764, more than 120 years after its initial settlement.
Set for Aug. 15 through Aug. 24, the event will feature group dog walks and an appearance by Rogers himself on opening night. The exhibition is partly a salute to the dog culture of Newburyport, which has more than 2,000 registered dogs, according to commission chairman Walt Thompson.
“We like dogs and dog owners, and this will be here for a limited time, so it adds a little color and pleasure to the great quality of life we have here in Newburyport,” he said.
The Barlet Mall Commission is a public volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining The Mall and Frog Pond for the public good.
The commission is currently soliciting donations to cover the $5,800 cost of the exhibition, about $1,500 of which has already been recovered, Thompson said. Members of the commission have set up a system of sponsorship whereby businesses can pay $500 to put their name on a collar around one of the dogs’ necks, or a smaller amount for a sign at the exhibit.
Rogers created the sculptures in 2009 in the spirit of public service. As an artist whose primary focus is on large-scale abstract art, most of his clients are wealthy individuals and organizations, he said. Rogers wanted to expand his art to better suit the public.
“I don’t think that art is just for the wealthy, I think it’s for everyone,” he said. “I love the large-scale abstract, but I didn’t do that if I was going to be doing a public exhibition. You really have to make a sculptural piece that’s iconic and that people are familiar with ... That’s why I ended up on dogs.”
The dogs are created by first cutting sheet metal to size — each dog is 8 feet high and 10 feet long — then bending and shaping the metal into a dog shape with a “bone” cut out of the side. Each piece is then fitted together with an advanced technique called Tungsten Inert Gas welding.
The dogs are made of a special type of steel that quickly develops a protective layer of rust on the outside, allowing it to be safely exposed to the elements.
This isn’t Rogers’ first Newburyport exhibition: He also has two pieces along the city’s rail trail. The first is called “G Swirl,” a shining, silver curl of metal that emerges from the ground by the waterfront and tapers to a point above the viewer’s head. The second is similar to his dog exhibit: two metal sparrows in flight, connected wing-to-wing off the rail trail.
Rogers has loved Newburyport’s art scene ever since visiting the city as a child while spending time at his family’s second home on Plum Island.
“Newburyport holds a real romantic place in my heart,” he said. “Newburyport has always played a supportive role for artists ... It’s known as an artsy city. For an artist, even if you’re not from the area, you visit there. It’s one of those places that, as an artist, you feel at home.”
Newburyport is just one of many cities that has seen the dog statues on tour. They’ve been exhibited in at least 11 cities in eight different states, from their first home in Massachusetts to as far as Florida and Ohio. After the Mall exhibition, plans are in the works to bring them still farther — to Texas.
“The response from the initial launch in 2009 has been so good that it’s about five years later and it’s still going strong from traveling,” Rogers said. “That says a lot in itself. People see it and they remember it.”