Do you realize how important play is?
Several years ago now, my wife and I had a precious little Cocker Spaniel named Sonny. A few months after we first met, Karen rescued him from the Humane Society during an El Nino winter when he was just 9 months old. Due to some traumatic experiences that we can only guess at, he was afraid of rain. But with some care and nurturing, this frightened little dog exploded with happiness, joy and playfulness.
A while after he passed, I was looking for an idea for a sculpture. My wife thought of Sonny, and I began a journey to figure out exactly how I would represent that little dog in bronze. How could I show Sonny's personality? That's always my goal in my sculptures, to show the emotion that the character is feeling, the emotion that drives them and truly represents who they are.
Sonny was always happy and ready to play. He loved to play fetch. Hunched down, mouth open and tongue dangling playfully, that was his pose when he was ready to jump up and play. So of course that is the pose I picked. That was him. We later learned from a dog trainer that this pose is called "Play Bow", meaning that he is bowed down and ready to play. Perfect!
When we were kids, we played naturally, all of the time (even when our parents wished we would do our chores and go to bed). We encourage children to play, while they still can. But is that the only time that we should play? Life is difficult, fraught with difficulties, cares and concerns. Long commutes, chores, health issues and plenty of things to do that we would rather not. As adults we forget that we need to play as well. We need a break from the concerns that bring us down, to remember that life can be a joy.
The best and fastest way to get to a sense of play is to smile. It instantly lifts our spirits and makes us feel better. I have heard that smiling while talking on the phone makes us sound nicer and more inviting to the person on the other end of the phone. A smile is more welcoming to those around us, to friends and strangers alike. Play Bow seems to bring a smile to everyone who meets him, just like Sonny did. They instantly feel his sense of happiness and play.
It is hilarious to see the reactions of the dogs who meet Play Bow. They believe that he is a real dog, sniffing him in the appropriate places. Some even bark at him. It is even more fun to see their confusion when he doesn't quite smell right. Maybe they just want to play with him too.
Kids react to it like he is a real dog too, hugging him and climbing on. That is probably another aspect of childhood that most adults have lost - the sense of imagination and wonderment. They have no problem making the leap from bronze sculpture to real dog. It is just another aspect of fun and play. The kids love to fall into that world of imagination, smiling and laughing. It's something that all of us should do more often.
Our little precious dog is living on at Ascension Lutheran School and the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Paula, not just in our memory, but in the lives of children and everyone who sees him. It is something I hope my sculptures can do for everyone, bring them from the struggles of daily life back into that happy world of imagination and play, at least for a little while. Play Bow is always ready to play, welcoming the kids and bringing smiles to their faces, just like he always did for us.
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