Pandamania Strikes Local Artists

Pandamania Strikes Local Artists

Springfield artist Marni Maree is getting attached to the 150-pound panda in her garage. "I feel like it's a part of the family for a while," Maree said.

Catherine Hillis in Fairfax Station has caught the panda-fever as well. Hillis' panda has bushy eyebrows and a mustache, resembling Groucho Marx's mustache. It's called "Ti-Bet Your Life," a play on words from Marx's show "You Bet Your Life." Her husband was a Marx fan and helped her with the idea.

"It's really cute," Hillis said. "I'm making it to look like Groucho Marx."

The panda bear sculptures are part of "Pandamania," a program in Washington, D.C. in which artists showcase their skills on the 150 pandas to be displayed in various locations throughout the city. Area artists are putting on the final touches before delivering their bears to the waterfront area in D.C. on May 1.

Maree picked her panda up on Saturday, April 11, with several pages of detailed instructions as to how to paint the bear and apply the varnish so it will stand up to all the elements. The paperwork listed the five "Commandments from the Arts Commission," including wiping down the panda with a mild soap and priming it with Gesso; use only water-based artists' acrylic paints; no deviating from the initial design; using of proper isolation coat and finishing with three to four coats of a particular varnish.

BESIDES GIVING Maree and Hillis' artwork exposure, and getting immersed in the whole D.C. art scene, the panda pulled Maree out of an artist's slump. She has a display to put together for Greenspring Village in July and August, and Maree is committed to several paintings for that. Her bear deadline got the brushes moving again.

"He motivated me," she said, attaching a male role to the un-named bear that's decked out in a daisy motif.

Hillis is a veteran of the painted animals experience. She participated in D.C.'s "Party Animals" two years ago in which artists painted donkeys and elephants. She also contributed to beach bird activity in Ocean City, Md. Like Maree, Hillis' walls are decked out with her watercolor paintings.

The Washington, D.C. Arts Commission donated a studio for the artists to work in, or they can take it home like Maree and Hillis did. When Maree was in D.C. picking her bear up, she saw other designs, including an extravagant bear painted by the Chinese Embassy, as well as one artist crocheting a sweater with copper wires.

"It was going to be gorgeous, I could tell," Maree said.

Elizabeth Hillis, 14, watched the panda progress at their home.

"It's really interesting to see the thing come in and evolve," she said.

Hillis' neighbors on her Fairfax Station pipestem are used to the creativity at the artist's home.

"My neighbors are getting a little blasé because I'm always doing something crazy," Hillis said.

MAREE IS INTO FLOWERS. She's been the president of the Springfield Art Guild since 2002 and a regular in-house artist at the Loft Gallery in Occoquan. The flowers worked out, but she also submitted a drawing of the bear decked out in grapes.

"I love to paint flowers," Maree said.

Liz Welsh, a neighbor across the street from Maree, has watched the panda's progress.

"I've sort of become attached to it," Welsh said. "It's been fun for the community too."

Once the Washington, D.C. Arts Commission assigns a spot to each bear, it will host Pandamania signings and art shows for the artists, including Maree and Hillis. Each panda will be placed on a 500-pound base, which the artists will have to decorate with the same paints on the spot in D.C.