You know how dogs walk in a circle before they lie down? "That's akin to what we do,” Jill Flinn said. "This goes in a circle, too.” It all began 15 years ago when the artist and her husband, Steve Flinn, found a pregnant dog near their farm south of Glasgow, Mo. That abandoned animal would soon give birth to a litter of puppies — and to the Flinn's "circle of giving.” Jill Flinn explains the circle this way: An animal needs a home, which the Flinns give or find for them. That inspires art, which gives people joy, which helps fund the Flinns' animal rescue, which inspires more art and more rescues. If every picture tells a story, most of Flinn's "sculptured paintings” talk about animals once unwanted but now loved. That art — featuring animals depicted in flat "paper clay” relief painted with bright acrylics — makes up the bulk of Flinn's works on display at the Festival of the Arts, which continues through Sunday.
Rescued animals are ‘good subject matter'Until she took in her first rescued animal, Flinn, a former high school art teacher, had specialized in whimsical animal jewelry and portraits of landscapes and nature. Watching the dogs, she got an idea. "You know what?” she told her husband, "They're good subject matter.” Their antics would make good paintings, she figured. That's how this kind of got started.” For instance, Flinn recalled, she noticed owls hooted at her motley group of seemingly mismatched sibling pups, which she said could be from different fathers even in the same litter. So she created "Whoooo's Your Daddy?” which shows an owl asking the question of some dogs. The Flinns took in more strays, including a dog that was to be put down because a neighbor was moving into a nursing home. The dog inspired the painting "Dogs Deliver Joy.” "She is the biggest, most joyful dog,” Flinn said.
Chasing after the birdsThe list of paintings runs from "Waiting at Rainbow Bridge” and "Cinco de Meow” to "Mutt Cracker Sweet” and "Joan of Arf.” Flinn's current favorite is "Field Frolic,” a picture she recently sold of a bug being chased by a bird being chased by a dog. It was inspired by barn swallows that followed Steve as he mowed the grass, apparently to grab bugs kicked up from the lawn. The birds then took to swooping at the dogs, causing them to give chase. That kicked up bugs, which the swallows would then harvest to feed their young. It went on all summer so consistently that each time the dogs came out, "they were looking for their birds,” Flinn said. "It was hilarious.” Today, two to three dozen animals at a time make their home in the couple's 10-acre fenced yard and 160 acres of woods, creeks and meadows. And they keep Jill Flinn busy with ideas that keep visitors coming back to her exhibits. "Most people look in and they say, ‘That stuff just makes me smile,'” she said. "It radiates from the animals. They make us smile.”
Jill Flinn of Glasgow, Mo., is shown Wednesday in her booth at the Festival of the Arts in downtown Oklahoma City. She is holding a photo of Mackenzie, a border collie mix who was the inspiration for her painting "Dogs Deliver Joy,” pictured to the right. By Jaconna Aguirre, The Oklahoman