by Stacia Friedman
Luna, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever, died last May, but her owner John Ingersoll continues to see her smiling face whenever he stands behind the counter of his Evergreen Cheese Shop.
“Cassie (Catherine) Frazer came to me two years ago and showed me an oil painting she had done of Bonnie, her Golden. It was so lovely, I asked her to do a portrait of Luna,” said Ingersoll, “I gave her a photo of Luna, not realizing she would be gone so soon.”
Ingersoll now has Luna forever in Frazer’s oil painting on the wall of his cheese shop. The connection between Ingersoll and Frazer goes deeper than friendship. Their Goldens, Ingersoll’s Luna and Frazer’s Bonnie, were “step-sisters,” both sharing the same champion father. The portrait of Luna launched Frazer, 70, into a new career path that reflects her lifelong passion for oil painting and pets. It wasn’t long before a Wyndmoor resident saw Frazer’s painting at the Evergreen Cheese Shop and commissioned the artist to paint their black Lab. “It had such soulful eyes,” Frazer said.
Frazer, a Chestnut Hill resident since 1974, grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and majored in painting at Philadelphia College of Art (now UArts) before receiving her Masters in Art Education at Arcadia University. Although she had taken painting classes over the years at PAFA, Penn, Fleisher and Cheltenham Art Center, her focus for decades was on teaching art and fourth grade in the Philadelphia School System.
“When I retired from teaching at the Henry Houston School in 2007, I decided it was time to take painting seriously again. I studied with Frances Galante at Woodmere for four years, working on landscapes, still-lifes and figurative work. But it wasn’t until I painted my dog Bonnie that something really clicked for me,” said Frazer. “I discovered brush strokes and new ways of working with color, hue and texture.”
For people who know Frazer, this is no surprise. She had always been an animal lover. “When I was a child, we had a mutt named Tippy with whom I bonded immediately. I could read his emotions,” she said. “My next dog was a Llewellyn Spaniel, whom I rescued.” Then came Goldens. “They have unusually expressive eyes with which they communicate their feelings and needs,” she said. It doesn’t hurt that Frazer lives directly across from Pastorius Park, where she can observe lots of dogs.
Owning dogs and cats never stopped Frazer from looking out for strays. “When I was teaching in Kensington, I’d always keep extra leashes and dog treats in my car and pick up strays on my way to work. I’d put the pup in the basement with the janitor while I was in the classroom, then find a good home for them when school was over. My principal would tap me on the shoulder and ask ‘Why is there a dog in the boiler room?’”
Frazer is the one neighbors call when a stray kitty comes around on a freezing winter night. “That’s how I got Tweet,” she said, pointing to a small, apricot female cat whose fur is an exact match to Bonnie’s coat. Plus, there’s Henri, a smoke gray male cat.
“I feel a spiritual magnetism toward animals,” she said. “I don’t do any preliminary drawings. I paint directly on the canvas while listening to NPR.” She paints in the classic style known as under-painting that starts by laying down a gray tone over the entire canvas. Her influences are 19th century Impressionists such as Manet, Morande and Morisot. “I work all over the canvas, not just in one place,” she said. “The result isn’t just a picture. It’s a real painting, something that holds your interest.”
Frazer’s pet portraits are not limited to dogs. “I paint cats, birds, turtles, even pigs,” she said. “All I need is three pet photos and approximately one week’s time.” Frazer doesn’t have a website, but her work will be on display at Borrelli Gallery in Chestnut Hill in December and, of course, at the Evergreen Cheese Shop.
For more information, contact Catherine Frazer at 215-247-4615.
Mt. Airy freelance writer Stacia Friedman is the author of “Tender is the Brisket,” available on Amazon.com.