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‘Paws’itive Art Contest Digs Up Art by Drexel Dragons

July 14, 2020

A magnet made of entries from the "Paws"itive Art Contest. Photo courtesy Janine Erato.
A magnet made of entries from the "Paws"itive Art Contest. Photo courtesy Janine Erato.

Last term, Drexel University’s therapy dogs hosted a “Paws”itive Art Contest for members of the Drexel community to submit artwork of one, two or all of the purebred Cane Corsos — grandmother Chai, mother Espresso and her son Java.

“We were looking to do something fun and artistic to still be in contact with everyone,” said Janine Erato, the dogs’ handler.

The three winners, who were announced on the University’s annual Day of Giving on June 24, were all friends of the dogs, having interacted with them on campus and/or following them on social media. Using photos of the dogs as inspiration, the Dragons used their art skills and creativity to create colorful pieces featuring the canine family.

The winning entries were chosen by an independent art teacher, and the prizes included $25 gift cards.

The Dragons’ art will be featured on magnets that Erato designed, both on separate magnets and one showing all the entries from the contest. The magnets will be distributed when Erato and the dogs are able to safely visit and meet with Dragons on Drexel’s campuses.

The winners were:

  • Third-year game design major Taylor Andrews, who won the “digital piece” student category
  • Third-year behavioral health counseling major Alexandra Gordon, who won the “mixed piece” student category
  • Anthony Florendo MS ’08, who won the “mixed media” staff/other category

“It was so fun to see the talent that comes out of Drexel Dragons, and I loved seeing their art,” said Erato.

Taylor Andrews' winning entry to the "Paws"itive Art Contest. Photo courtesy Taylor Andrews.

Andrews, a Westphal College of Media Art & Design student with a fine arts minor, had seen the therapy dogs on campus a few times — “I always seemed to be busy whenever they would come on campus but just knowing they were there made me happy,” she said — and followed the @drexelsdogs Instagram account. Inspired by ’50s/60s holiday cards and advertisements showing families gathered around the table, Andrews wanted to show the dogs together, but with a spin (think Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s famous “Dogs Playing Poker” painting).

“I was inspired by the fact that the dogs are a family, not only biologically to each other but to the whole Drexel community,” said Andrews.

The end result shows the dogs eating and drinking, with lots of fun details: Chai wears Drexel ID badge (modeled after her actual ID photo) and drinks  —  of course  —  a chai latte in a “World’s Best Grandma” mug; Espresso wears a Drexel ring as a brooch and drinks (what else) an espresso in a “Mom” cup; and Java wears Drexel sweatshirt and a collared shirt covered in coffee mugs (in homage to the dogs’ names) and drinks a “Pupsi” cola drink, since as the baby he is much too young to be drinking coffee. Also look out for the retro Kit-Cat Klock-inspired Mario the Dragon wall clock; it’s one of Andrews’ favorite aspects of the digital drawing.

Alexandra Gordon with her award-winning painting. Photo courtesy Alexandra Gordon.

Gordon, a College of Nursing & Health Professions student planning on studying art therapy after graduation (“hopefully at Drexel”), also took inspiration from both the dogs’ pictures as well as Drexel itself to show how the University is a home for the dogs and those who love them. She was inspired by a photo she found on the dogs’ Instagram account and her favorite view of the Philadelphia skyline from Drexel Park.

“I felt that this aspect, and the color scheme of blue and yellow, really tied the dogs to our home of Drexel, and showing the skyline really emphasized that point as well,” she said.

Gordon, who has been a Resident Assistant at Drexel for two years, has always included the therapy dogs in programming for her hall.

“I have seen the positive impact they have on our first-year community, and contributing an art piece was my way of saying ‘thank you!’” said Gordon, who also makes art that can be viewed here. “Fostering a sense of self and community is something that can be done through art, and I strive to make a career out of it.”

Anthony Florendo's winning art. Photo courtesy Anthony Florendo.

American Campus Communities (ACC) Area Resident Director Florendo, who received an MS from Drexel in higher education administration, had also met with the therapy dogs before when creating and hosting events at ACC-operated student residences on campus: Chestnut Square, The Summit at University City and University Crossings.

“The Drexel therapy dogs have always accepted every invitation to support our residents so it was my pleasure to support their art contest!” said Florendo. “And it was a great, destressing event idea during COVID-19!”

Florendo used a photo from the dogs’ social media as reference, and is used to doing watercolor portraits of pets (see more here) but said he wanted to break in his other art supplies.

Now that the contest is over, Erato is glad that people were able to stay connected to and be supported by Chai, Espresso and Java in the absence of visits and snuggles. Erato organized the competition with her then-intern, College of Arts and Sciences biological sciences major Mallika Kodavatiganti, to also create a lighthearted and therapeutic outlet for Drexel students, faculty, professional staff, alumni and members of the community.

“Everyone's experience during the pandemic is different,” said Erato. “You never know what a person's struggles look like and when your support, words of encouragement and smile are the lifeline someone truly needed. Everyone deserves words of encouragement and positive reinforcement. We are honored to be that support.”

So what’s next for the therapy dogs after their stint as muses?

Erato and her new interns, College of Arts and Sciences biological sciences majors Erin Poole and Ryan Krawczyk, are already working to figure out what on-campus visits will look like when Drexel opens in the fall. They created and have posted a survey to receive feedback on how the therapy dogs are impacting students in order to make programming decisions going forward (like hosting more events and spending more time on the Center City Campus and Queen Lane Campus). You can help the therapy dogs by filling out that survey here.