Purrfect fundraising with artsy Barn Cats

  • Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2012 1:40 a.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, November 5, 2012 7:31 a.m.
Michael Gunter's Mr. Barney Gaston is the mascot of the 28 barn cats that is featured around town.
Michael Gunter's Mr. Barney Gaston is the mascot of the 28 barn cats that is featured around town.

Curling up on a warm seat like a cat and gazing into the sun setting on the sandy beach – two different images that feel the same-calm and serene.

Aiken Center for the Arts teacher Gretchen Hash-Heffner wrapped both of those images and placed them onto her Gaston Livery Stable barn cat, Purrrfectly South Carolina.

The cat, one of 28 submitted in the Friends of Gaston Livery Stable's fundraiser for the stable, was inspired based off one of Hash-Heffner's many paintings.

“I travel to Pawleys Island a lot and do photography for reference,” she said.

She was so taken with her sunset photo she transformed in into a painting. Combining that with a palm tree, her cat was created.

“I was very nervous starting it,” she said. “It took me five hours. … Once I got started, it all just flowed.”

She uses acrylics and works on landscape, seascape and, being an equestrian, equestrian paintings.

Aiken's appreciation for horses was what brought her to the city from Pennsylvania, and the horse statues around town were an inspiration for the barn cat project.

“The nickname for the Gaston Livery Stable is 'the barn,'” said Allen Riddick, Friends member. “All barns have cats to kill mice, so we went with barn cats to raise money.”

After gathering artists from Aiken Artist Guild, North Augusta Artist Guild and USC Aiken artist classes, the cats were ready to be made.

To showcase them to the community, they were unveiled in the Alley on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. People were able to talk to sponsors and artists about the creations.

Now, the cats have taken their posts at random businesses like Wesley's Automotive Service, Aiken Veterinary Clinic and Southern Bank & Trust on Laurens Street, awaiting the auction in March next year.

Wesley's has the privilege to cater to the finest cat of the clutter, Mr. Barney Gaston, also known as the Great Catsby.

With its black tilted hat and shiny red bowtie, Mr. Gaston was created from the hands of Wesley's worker Michael Gunter.

“We just were messing around the shop with different names,” Gunter said. Out of the mix, F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1920's-set classic novel “The Great Gatsby” sprang up.

After 80 hours of bending, bonding and shaping aluminum and fiberglass together, the cat rival of Jay Gatsby – the novel's title character – was created.

Michael Gunter also created racehorse cat 9 Lives with the assistance of his friend Bob Johnson, who made 9 Lives' leather, English saddle.

With his background mainly being in automobiles, this is his first major art project; Mr. Gaston takes centerstage as the whole line's mascot.

While Mr. Gaston strolled to its creator's work place, the clinic and bank got their own colorful creations.

Colleen Timmerman, whose husband works at the clinic, use to live in the house that's on the same property of the Gaston Livery Stable.

“I had many fun times in the barn,” she said. “It's a great historic place.”

For this reason, the clinic chose to sponsor Barbara Yon's Cat of Many Colors.

“We haven't seen the finished product yet, just the drawing,” Timmerman said. “It was very, very pretty.”

Brightly colored cats must be a trend, as the bank chose to store and sponsor Sandy Staiger's shimmery gold Catfish'n cat.

“The barn cat program is a great fundraiser for Friends,” said Frank Townsend, the bank's Aiken County president. “It's great to support the history that Gaston Livery Stable brings to Aiken.”

People interested in the cats can buy them before auction. All cats, except Mr. Gaston, will sell at a buy-it-now price of $5,000; Mr. Gaston will sell for $10,000.

More information will be attached to the cats, but people can call Riddick at 649-6050 or email him at peppercats@bellsouth.net.

D.S. Owens from Mind's Eye Photography took photos of the cats for the stable.

“My favorite at this point is Barney, a.k.a. The Great Catsby,” he said. “He just has so much style about him and is just plain cool. Michael Gunter might have a new career as an artist after executing two absolutely fantastic cats.”

He did also enjoy a good chuckle over Catfish'n, as well as all the people who saw his picture, he said.

The Gaston Livery Stable has been a part of Aiken since 1893 and was once threatened with being destroyed, before being declared a historical landmark on Oct. 22. The barn's future includes a living history park and museum, operated under Friends and the Aiken County Historical Museum, according to the stable's website.

“I am honored to have been asked to serve on the board of the Friends of the Gaston Livery Stable,” Barbara Gunter, board member, said. “Even though our board is small, the people serving are dedicated and committed to the restoration of the barn.”

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