When Matthew Bartik of Mariaville Lake decided to get his paws into Albany’s Nipper dog project, he sniffed out the real story behind the famous dog.
Bartik’s design was inspired by the original Nipper image, “His Master’s Voice,” an 1899 painting that shows a dog listening to a gramophone, an early phonograph that recorded and replayed sound.
Victor, his dog, not only looks like the traditional terrier, he is attached to a metal sculpture of a Gramophone.
But this isn’t your usual metal sculpture. This one is made of hundreds of forks, as in plain old stainless steel tableware.
The Schenectady County resident is an award-winning artist, and for more than 14 years, he has been creating small figures and larger abstract artworks by bending and twisting forks into intricate shapes.
On his web site, www.fork-art.com, you’ll see figures of violinists, baseball players, massage therapists and many other small sculptures. He also makes jewelry.
Bartik started as a street artist in New York City, but he was soon doing private commissions, and the Village Voice was writing about his work.
He’s had solo shows at the Brookside Museum and Arkell Museum and shown in group shows at Albany Barn and The Shirt Factory in Glens Falls.
He’s won several awards at the Syracuse Fine Arts and Crafts Festival.
The Gazette caught up with Bartik this week as he was putting the final touches on Victor.
Q: How did you come up with this idea?
A: The original image comes from a painting by English artist Francis Barraud. According to the Gramophone Company, the dog, a terrier named Nipper, had originally belonged to Barraud’s brother, Mark. When Barraud died, Francis inherited Nipper, a cylinder phonograph and recordings of Mark’s voice. Francis noted the peculiar interest that the dog took in the recorded voice of his late master emanating from the horn and conceived the idea of committing the scene to canvas.
Q: Why is your dog named Victor?
A: The Victor Talking Machine Company was an American record company and phonograph manufacturer headquartered in Camden, New Jersey. The Victor Talking machine company owned the rights to “His Master’s Voice” and used the iconic painting of Nipper in their advertising.
Q: Is this your first public outdoor artwork?
Q: Why did you want to make a Nipper artwork?
A: I have worked hard as an artist to make my work accessible to everyone, my pieces range from $10 to several thousand dollars. I really liked the idea of having my artwork displayed in downtown Albany on the street where it could be enjoyed by people from all walks of life.
Q: What did you like about doing this project?
A: I enjoyed the challenge of creating such a large piece that would hold up to the elements. The dogs are 36 inches tall and I created the gramophone to be the same scale as in the original painting.
Q: What was the most difficult part?
A: As there is no heating, welding or solder in my work, everything is bent with just my hands and a pair of pliers. Creating such a large piece in a short amount of time can be a challenge.
Q: Did you grow up around here?
A: Yes, I grew up in Mariaville and graduated from Schalmont High School in 1999. Then I went to SUNY New Paltz, where I earned my B.A. in fine arts/visual arts with a minor in mathematics.
Q: Do you own a dog?
A: No, I have three cats: Rascal, El Capitan and Nuzz. Two of them actually came from the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society in Menands that is part of the project.
What happened to the real Nipper?
Nipper, the flesh-and-blood dog who appeared in the painting that became a worldwide advertising image, lived in England more than 100 years ago.
A mixed terrier breed, probably part Jack Russell, the little Nipper was born in Bristol in 1894 and died in 1895. He reportedly was named for his habit of “nipping” at strangers.
Details of his death are sketchy but we do know that he was buried in a small park near his home. A bank was later built on the site, and if you go there today, you’ll see a commemorative plaque and a tiny road called Nipper Alley.