Like a lot of kids, Jennifer White grew up with pets.
“We had a rabbit. We had a frog in our family. Cats and dogs, too. (When) they died, we (would) always get a new pet,” she said.
It was no great leap, then, that when White began to develop her artistic talent as a teenager, she felt drawn to painting animals. Over the years, her hummingbirds, roadrunners, quail and Gila monsters have garnered state and community nominations and awards, and twice made the cover of Governor’s Council annual reports.
Today, several of her pieces appear in “Extreme Pets!” a new, interactive exhibition at Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa.
The 4,000-square-foot show examines the relationship between people and their pets, from birds, hamsters and lizards to goats, potbelly pigs and turtles. Curator Jeffory Morris says the 55 works of art prompt visitors to consider what motivates us to take on the responsibilities and expenses of pet ownership, and why pets so often seem to become members of our families.
“Extreme Pets!” features a slew of hands-on art activities, educational exercises and pretend zones. Art-making projects include collages, masks, etchings and fish mobiles inspired by the work of real artists, among them locals Corinne Geersten and Zarco Guerrero.
When it comes to make-believe, youngsters will find a mock veterinary clinic, animal costumes for playing dress up in front of a video screen, and an Xbox 360 where they can create their own creatures and take them through a number of video games.
Learning stations include a History of Pets audiovisual timeline, a Pets Around the World map, pet care tips, and a wheel featuring presidential, cartoon and TV pets.
An Ode to Pets board lets visitors post drawings, poems or other creations in honor of past, present or future animal companions.
White, who shares her backyard with a desert tortoise these days, believes once you’ve known a pet, that animal is always with you in some way or another.
Over the years, friends have asked her to paint portraits of pets that have passed away.
“Sometimes it’s hard to draw (the animal), but when you realize that you really want to do something for some other person, it’s emotional,” said White, who has Down syndrome and struggles with visual impairment. “(The painting) has some more meaning. It’s something to know that they’re always there in spirit. It doesn’t matter if they die; they just go with you.”
“Extreme Pets” is open every day but Mondays, through Sept. 9, at Arizona Museum for Youth, 35 N. Robson St. in Mesa. Admission is $7 per person, age 1 and older.
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