Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

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February 5, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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Immortalized Pooches: The Main Street Poodle and Dirty Biter

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main poodle copy

by Brittany Lasanen

Have Main Street residents warmed up to the Main Street Poodle since its chilly reception in January 2013? Unfortunately, the answer is still no. Residents are just as confused by the poodle as they were close to two years ago. This is not the case for the Dirty Biter sculpture in La Conner, Washington, which is highly regarded by locals and tourists alike.

Histories

Gisele Amantea, who resides in Montreal, Quebec, constructed the untitled work referred to as the “Main Street Poodle.” The sculpture is a 7-foot tall, white porcelain poodle that sits atop a 25-foot post. Installed by the Vancouver public arts program and paid for by the federal government, TransLink, and City of Vancouver, the total cost for the poodle amounted to $97, 600. The poodle is intended to represent Main Street’s quirky vibe and antique businesses. The piece was a part of an art series presented on the #3 bus route.

dirty biter

Dirty Biter, who was neither dirty nor a biter, was constructed by Bill Matheson, a steel, brass, and bronze sculptor in La Conner. The sculpture is a memorial to Dirty Biter, a dog that lived from the early 1970s to 1982. The sculpture sits on a metal bench in Dirty Biter Park next to Dirty Biter’s favourite tavern. Its crooked jaw depicts the consequence of an accident Dirty Biter had while biting a car tire. Dirty Biter’s sculpture is a reminder of a past La Conner, before it became a commercialized tourist attraction.

hidden poodle

Interpretations of the Main Street Poodle

My first impression of the poodle was that, hidden between trees and lampposts, it is hard to find. I walk right underneath it several times before noticing its presence. Having owned poodles all my life, I personally love them and hate to admit that the sculpture does not evoke much emotional or cognitive response from me. Regardless of the side of the street I am on, all I can do is gaze up at the out of reach poodle.

Rebecca, a resident of the area, believes that a stroller on a pedestal would more accurately represent Main and E 18th Ave because it is a family area. She finds it insulting that while kids are generally the ones who like the poodle, they are not at all able to physically engage with the artwork. The poodle can function as a landmark for directions, which she considers a bonus, but otherwise, Rebecca is glad it can be easily ignored.

Meghan, a condo owner, is thankful that her balcony does not have a view of the poodle. She feels bad for neighbours who have to face the back end of a dog when they look outside. Originally believing the poodle was a school prank, Meghan was disappointed to discover that the city funded such an expensive art project. She believes inserting garbage cans to keep the area clean would have been a better use of the money. Meghan maintains that a giant hipster on a pedestal would have been a better depiction of Main Street.

Interpretations of Dirty Biter

Lou, a resident of Shelter Bay near La Conner, loves the sculpture. To her, it represents a funkier version of La Conner before it transformed into a yuppie tourist area. Ollie Iverson, La Conner’s Parks Commissioner, also loves Dirty Biter and its tribute to a family dog.

A couple from Coast Hoquiam, four hours from La Conner, likes the statue and the story it represents. They believe that the connection between the artwork and its location is appropriate. Dirty Biter gives visitors insight into La Conner’s history and the couple believes he was a well-loved dog. They can imagine people sitting down and engaging with the sculpture on sunny days.

Contrasts

Dirty Biter appears to do everything the Main Street Poodle cannot. It can be considered a communicative and interactive artwork. The audience, which includes people of different genders and ages, is compelled to touch, rub, hug, and interact with Dirty Biter. Furthermore, Dirty Biter has inspired the creation of more art, such as crocheted collars and garments that can be attached to the sculpture. The artwork communicates a history of La Conner and a personal story of a beloved dog.

Spectators can cognitively and physically engage with Dirty Biter in ways they cannot with the Main Street Poodle. Many residents believe that the poodle is not fulfilling its purpose of accurately representing Main Street. When Vancouver constructs a piece of art that is intended to represent the surrounding area, the communities input and support should be made a priority. Will Main Street ever get its Dirty Biter?

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