Creature Comforts

Pets, wild things and farm animals are inspirations for hand-crafted chairs at The Painted Critter in Lambertville.

By:Gwen McNamara
(At The Painted Critter, animal sculptures are painted by Pam Foss and her daughter, Mindy Durante, then fitted with functional wooden bases to create one-of-a-kind stools, chairs and benches.)
   For sculptor Pam Foss, sculpture should be something for everyone
to enjoy — not just those with the big bucks.
   That’s what inspired her to create a whimsical line of functional
pieces that combine the friendly faces of the animal kingdom with fun keepsake
stools, chairs and benches.
   The response to her "painted critters" has been so great that
she’s even opened a gallery of the same name on North Union Street in Lambertville
with help from her husband, Bob.
   Her three collections — pets, wild things and farm animals
— all begin as animal busts shaped in clay at the Lambertville gallery. Rubber
molds are then created and filled with polyresin at a foundry on Long Island.
The final product is fitted with a functional wooden base back in Lambertville
and painstakingly hand-painted by Ms. Foss and her daughter, Mindy Durante. Each
piece is hand-crafted, but remains affordable — ranging in price from about
$400 to $700.
   "If I were to create these kinds of pieces in bronze they’d
be way too expensive — between $10,000 and $15,000," says Ms. Foss, a Kingwood
Township resident. "And that’s not what I’m after. I’ve had relationships with
all the animals I’ve ever known and it’s their personality, what they give to
us, that I’m trying to bring out in my art."
   Born and raised in Atlantic City, Ms. Foss discovered her sculpting
talent through a chance encounter at a racetrack.
   "When Bob and I got married we lived in Florida and had race
horses at Hialeah Racetrack in Hialeah," she says. "In the late ’70s when Franco
Zeffirelli was shooting ‘The Champ’ he used one of my horses in the film.
   "One day the art director for the movie didn’t show up and they
needed someone to help decorate the horses," she continues. "Our trainer said,
‘Oh, Pam’s an artist, she can do that’ and before I knew it I was helping out.
   In particular, she had to help decorate the horses for a scene
where a young Ricky Schroder is on the back of a horse, being led by Jon Voight.
   "When Jon found out I was an artist, he asked if I could do
a sculpture of him, Ricky Schroder and the horse all together. But before I could
answer and say ‘Well I’ve never done a sculpture before,’ my trainer jumped right
in again and said ‘Sure she can do it.’ That night I ran out, bought a book on
sculpting, and the rest is history."
   After that experience, Ms. Foss found she really loved the art
and it wasn’t long before she was sculpting everything from racing scenes to wildlife
and developed a strong career developing monuments.
   With bronzes in galleries across the country, and monuments
nationwide at parks, museums and even shopping centers, her work includes a bronze
relief in the Monroe Building in Washington, D.C., depicting James Monroe’s inauguration
and a 10-foot-tall bronze monument of two Great Blue Herons at Quiet Water Park
in Annapolis, Md.
   But after 30 years of doing mostly monument work, Ms. Foss began
to lose her creative spirit.
   "I really enjoyed it, but I started to lose my artistic license
so to speak," she says. "Monument work really is art by committee — everyone,
the developers, architects, get in on the act. I needed a change."
   And when her niece asked for a birthday present of something
depicting her dog Lucy that she could use in her new computer room, Ms. Foss got
her chance.
   She crafted her first "painted critter" and realized she had
created something special.
   "Everyone went crazy and was asking if I could do one for them,"
she says.
   She started out selling her creations by mail order, but in
July decided to open the gallery.
   Always looking to stretch her artistic abilities, Ms. Foss plans
to start a women’s sculpture series in January focusing on "famous women that
have been forgotten" — like Gertrude Bell, the original Lawrence of Arabia,
and Sanora Carver, the first woman to ride the diving horse in Atlantic City.
   She’s also experimenting with paper castings — pieces created
by pressing several layers of paper into molds. The labor-intensive process of
draining pulp and applying pressure is an old Chinese art, Ms. Foss says.
   "It’s a very lengthy process, but it lends itself to so many
different applications," she says.
   And what does the future hold for her hand-crafted seats of
   "I’m always looking for new animals and inspiration," she says.
"It feels good to bring joy to so many people — these pieces are more than
just art, they’re a piece of heritage."
The Painted Critter is located at 12 N. Union St., Lambertville. Gallery hours:
Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. For information, call (609)
397-8880. On the Web: