Bernadette Kazmarski, an animal portrait artist who created "Great Rescues," a calendar that features portraits of cats, in her home studio in Carnegie with her 19-year-old cat, Cookie.
By Carole Gilbert Brown
Animal portrait artist Bernadette Kazmarski of Carnegie has a secret as to why her cat renderings are so beckoning, even if the subjects have passed on.
"I paint till they look back at me," she said. "I need to feel life in their eyes."
Ms. Kazmarski, who has rescued and served as a foster mom to cats for 25 years and who actively works with local animal welfare organizations, has featured 22 cats in color portraits in a desk calendar, "Great Rescues."
The portraits are accompanied by stories of need, rescue and love. The calendar spans September 2011 through December 2012, and some of the portraits contain more than one cat.
Among the featured felines is:
• Fawn -- the only cat that belonged to Ms. Kazmarski and also the subject of the first cat portrait she ever did. She was the runt of the litter born to a pregnant female that had been taken in by the artist just days before delivery.
• Buster, a black cat with white paws who was born in a trailer park where someone had put out antifreeze for the cats to drink.
• Bandit, a black-and-white cat rescued from the wheel well of a car parked at a gym.
• Christie, a long-haired orange cat whose owners took her to a veterinarian for treatment but never picked her up.
The portraits are done in pastel or watercolor, but pencil sketches of some of Ms. Kazmarski's own felines also are sprinkled throughout the text, which contains pet care information, resource and pet loss support lists, and a supply of lined notepaper featuring the calendar's subject cats in soft gray. Special cat-related commemorative days are listed on the monthly calendars.
A graphic designer and print coordinator, Ms. Kazmarski, 50, who has also drawn dogs and people, said she didn't plan to be an animal portraitist.
She grew up in Scott and graduated from Chartiers Valley and Edinboro University, after which she started drawing and painting in the evenings.
"It never occurred to me at all to be an artist, let alone be commissioned to draw cats," said Ms. Kazmarski who was commissioned to draw her first animal portrait 20 years ago.
Ms. Kazmarski said drawing the portraits has been a salvation of sorts.
"Creating portraits saved me from surrendering under the weight of the cats who are abandoned, tossed out, abused and living on the streets," she said with a sigh, noting that she dedicated Great Rescues to her first feline family of cats "for patiently showing me the way."
Because her subjects are not prone to pose, she works from photographs but also spends time observing the animals. She also listens carefully to owners' tales of their pets' personalities and antics.
She promises that this is just the first of more planned "Great Rescues" calendars, including one that will feature dogs.
"Everybody has a great rescue story," Ms. Kazmarski said.
The spiral-bound "Great Rescues" calendars are 8 inches square and sell for $20 at greatrescuescalendar.com/.
Ms. Kazmarski will sign her desk calendars from 7 to 9 tonight at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library reception hall, 300 Beechwood Ave.
The event will include some of the rescue families with their cat portraits, including new ones not found in the calendar.