By Dedra Cordle
Like most dog-owning humans, Ken Valimaki can often be found standing before his beloved pets with a camera in hand, making funny noises to attract their attention before snapping that perfect photo.
But unlike most dog-owning humans, Valimaki then pours over the images, judging their stance, measuring the angles, laser focusing on their looks and quirks and taking copious notes on what he discovers. Shortly thereafter, the artist gets to work.
“I guess you could say they are my muse,” he said.
Unfortunately for him, he says, he does not get many requests to create art inspired by canines so when a potential opportunity arose two years ago he desperately wanted to be a part of it.
“I love art and I love dogs,” said the Pickerington resident. “I thought it was the perfect combination.”
It was in 2016 when Valimaki came across a call for artists by the Grove City Arts Council and the city’s Parks and Recreation department. The description was for a canine-themed sculpture crafted by using eco-friendly materials that would be placed in the recently opened dog park as part of the new Art in the Parks program. Drawing inspiration from his Afghan hounds, Valimaki made a small rendering of two large canines standing proudly side-by-side and submitted his work.
When Dennise Hunt, the project manager for Art in the Parks, saw his submission at that year’s EcoFest, she fell in love with his vision but didn’t think it would win the public or private panel contest.
“It was a very stylized and abstract piece,” she said. “I honestly thought people would go for something a little more conservative.”
His rendering, however, did come out on top.
“I was surprised and happy,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get to work.”
Due to funding issues, the construction of the planned 8-foot tall aluminum sculpture was put on hold for nearly two years until the city council appropriated funds for the construction of the artwork. In April, Valimaki got the call to order his materials.
For nearly six months, Valimaki traveled to a studio in Hilliard and worked on his larger-than-life creation alongside Kin Yu and Michael Liscano. His dogs, however, were not invited to participate in the construction process.
“Mr. Mies and Tadao Ando can be a little rambunctious,” he said of his Afghan hounds, who are 5-years-old and 9 months, respectively.
On Oct. 21, the statue dedication ceremony took place at Breck Community Park with community leaders and members saying they could not be more proud of this sculpture – aptly titled “Woof! Woof!” – and of the program to bring more art to public spaces.
“I think this is a real turning point in our mission to make art more accessible,” said Hunt.
Valimaki said he too was proud of his creation.
“I think it’s a really fun, whimsical piece.”
He even said he was not bothered by the thought of canines doing canine things near or on the base of the sculpture.
“I want this to be an interactive piece,” he said. “If people should bring their dogs over to take pictures and that happens, well it happens.”
He added that he was thankful his sculpture was chosen to be the first piece in the Art in the Parks program and immensely grateful to the community for supporting art and the parks.
“Thank you for keeping them alive,” he said.