Meet the Artist, Kathleen Harte Gilsenan:
I’ve always loved creating artwork that touches the heart. When my kids were small, the focus of my artwork centered on children. That focus remained constant for years. But, as the children grew into adults and moved on with their lives, our Yellow Labrador Retriever, Maddie, took the center stage in my art. That’s when I decided to start Maddie Lab Studio.
We adopted Maddie from the Released Puppy Program at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Patterson, New York. When she was about one year old, my son, Brendan, discovered that she was a born model. He took a deflated rubber ball, folded it in half and put it on Maddie’s head. We laughed because it looked like she was wearing a bathing cap. Brendan ran for the camera and, somehow, Maddie just sat there waiting. Maybe she knew this was the beginning of something big. Brendan proceeded to dress her up in a football jersey and in one of my daughter’s coats from when she was small. After each photo, Brendan gave Maddie a small dog bone. The reward was not huge, but it was enough for her to understand that if she did this crazy thing, there was something tasty waiting for her afterwards.
This new found talent allowed me to dress Maddie up, take reference shots, and create whimsical illustrations of lovable Labrador Retrievers. The images I create have a timeless, vintage feel and are inspired by professions, sports, travel, hobbies and time spent at home. I find inspiration for my illustrations all around me, and I am especially inspired by time spent in Maine where I vacation with my family. Other Labrador Retriever owners are also great resources for new image ideas and often email me with ideas inspired by their own lovable Labs.
As I continued to develop more and more images of Labrador Retrievers, my daughter, Kelly, became ever more interested in my business. Kelly started offering feedback about the images and then started helping me by setting up a website and an Etsy shop, and even traveled hours with her own Lab, Shelby, to join me at art fairs. So, when Kelly decided to try a new direction in her work situation, she and I decided it was time for her to play a bigger role at Maddie Lab Studio. As a consultant to the company, she has helped take the company to a new level by focusing on marketing, licensing, social media and networking. This allows me to spend more of my own time in the studio creating new images of our lovable Labrador Retrievers.
In October 2013, we were fortunate enough to get another released puppy from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Milo is still just a puppy, but he’s hard at work learning how to behave like a civilized dog and how to pose for future illustrations. He has some big shoes (do Labs wear shoes?) to fill, but Maddie is doing a great job of showing him the ropes!
Through Maddie Lab Studio, I make yearly donations to Labrador Retriever Rescue organizations and to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an internationally accredited, non-profit guide dog school with a 50-plus year legacy of providing the blind and visually impaired with superior Guiding Eyes dogs, training and lifetime support services.