A 25-foot tall spirit totem pole stands outside Silver Maple Veterinary Clinic in Kutztown, offering a place for clients and community members to memorialize their pets after they pass.
“The loss of a pet is the most difficult part of this profession,” said Jaime Vanek, practice manager at Silver Maple. “A lot of times we get to meet these dogs and cats when they are just puppies and kittens. We get to be a part of their lives seeing them grow and partaking in that human-animal bond that is just so special.
“Animals change people’s lives, and they love us unconditionally. Being able to provide a place to honor their spirit after they pass is not only a way for us to give back to them, but it gives their families a place to come and visit and celebrate their spirit. This was a fun project, and we are so grateful to all of those involved.”
Vanek explained that Dr. Sam Yoder of Silver Maple was visiting San Francisco and really liked the idea of totem poles and what they represent.
“He came up with the idea of putting pets on it and making it into a spirit pole so people have a place to celebrate the life of their pets because animals are so important to people,” Vanek said.
Silver Maple’s spirit pole is from a local sawmill and is made from a white pine tree. The pole was designed by graphic designer Netta Ratice and carved by chainsaw artist Randy Pieller, a former contractor from Leesport who turned to chainsaw carving eight years ago following a work injury.
The animals carved on the Silver Maple pole represent pets that have passed on. Sitting at the top of the pole is Mooch, a Silver Maple house cat.
“I myself really appreciated the challenge of such a large scale totem pole like this one, and how the whole native American spirit feel associated with this particular giant work of art, kind of ties in with the spiritual unity that is so very noticeable between humans and the entire pet world around us,” Pieller said.
“Even as far as a community pulling together to find a lost pet for example,” he continued. “It’s something that we tend to see on a daily basis on our social media platforms we engage in. So when the public looks up at the totem pole and all the dogs and cats that are on there, they’ll have that unique sense of unity that bonds them together as animal lovers.”
Copper paw prints will be added to memorialize community members’ pets. Clients can purchase a print engraved with their pet’s name, birth and death dates for $50. Proceeds will go to the Mooch Fund.
“We love this because the human-animal bond is something so special. We can now offer our clients a place where they can celebrate that bond while also giving back to the community,” Vanek said.
In 2009, Silver Maple established a nonprofit organization called The Mooch Fund, named after their house cat, to help clients and others in the community with unexpected veterinary expenses.
Vanek said the fund “was established to help our community and their four-legged family members receive financial aid to help with unforeseen veterinary care. We do fundraising year round so we can continue to help as much as possible.”
Kutztown National Art Honor Society students painted the spirit pole in June. To celebrate, Silver Maple held a children’s coloring contest for a chance to win prizes, including tickets to Lehigh Valley Zoo, movie tickets and a gift certificate to Pop’s Malt Shoppe.
Silver Maple partnered with Kutztown Area High School art teacher Ben Hoffman in what Hoffman described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to paint the spirit pole.
“Dr. Sam thought it would be cool to involve the local students,” Vanek said. “Ben is such a big part of the community and liked the idea to involve the students and did an amazing job!”
“This was an incredible project to be a part of,” Hoffman said.
Students assisted in cleaning and priming the surface as well as painting the 25-foot totem pole outside the clinic. The project collectively took an estimated 70 hours to complete from start to finish.
“One of my favorite parts about public art is meeting new people,” Hoffman said. “Throughout this process, students and I encountered several pets and their owners, each wanting to say hello and learn more about this project. As we continued to paint each day, it was enjoyable to see different students taking ownership of each animal painted.”
What Hoffman appreciated most about this project was the attention to detail and acknowledgment of its history online.
“Totem poles have historically represented kinship, family crests and clan membership as noted by the Silver Maple Veterinary Clinic. I hope that these types of experiences and interactions provide a wholesome and equitable means to discuss various cultures and communities with students in the future,” he said.
This marks the fifth public art project that Kutztown students have completed over the past two years. Previous projects include a new community mural outside Young Ones Records, a mural in Sander Alley and last year’s Kutztown Fire Company mural titled “Proudly Serving,” which was designed by Hoffman, a volunteer firefighter.
“Public art is a gateway for conversation as well as an opportunity to reimagine spaces that are otherwise camouflaged by their natural surroundings,’ Hoffman said. “Projects like this demonstrate the longstanding impact one can have in their community and the time that goes into accomplishing a project of this scale.”
“As the high school art teacher, it gives me nothing but pride knowing that I have the opportunity to share these types of experiences with my students,” he continued. “This is just one of many projects, exemplifying the impact the arts have in our everyday lives.”
Source: Berkshire mont