Fiberglass livestock has been spotted “grazing” in front of local civic and commercial buildings in Webster, Dudley, and Oxford.
But before you say “Eww!” — or even more appropriately “Ewe!” — rest assured that no one is trying to pull the wool over one’s eyes with this faux flock popping up in front of banks, municipal buildings, and storefronts.
In fact, “Slater’s Sheep,” as they have been called, is a community art project supporting the Samuel Slater Experience, the interactive historical museum that opened in March.
A nonprofit corporation, Samuel Slater Experience invited local businesses and organizations to become sponsors in the mission to educate youth with a historical creation of the Webster area’s contribution to the American Industrial Revolution.
“We decided to make an awareness campaign…And we thought of what the icon and what the image might be,” Barbara Van Reed, director at the Samuel Slater Experience, said. “Slater is associated with thread, with bobbins, spindles, and so on but those aren’t very picturesque. So we tried to find something that would be more iconic. And doing some research, we knew that Samuel Slater established the very first woolen mill in America…So we decided on the sheep.”
While the domesticated, cud-chewing mammals depicted in these molds are usually raised for their meat, milk, and wool, these synthetic sheep are neither on the lam nor are they wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Rather, these painted fiberglass sheep sculptures are decorative art and colorful billboards beautifying the area landscape with a bit of history, a touch of whimsy, and a lot of hometown pride.
“The sheep are a fun way to involve the business community here in Webster and neighboring towns in getting behind the museum during our first year,” says Samuel Slater Experience founder Christopher Robert. “Having the sheep pop up around town also helps to bring a bit of Samuel Slater out to the community.”
Based in Gibbon, Nebraska, Icon Poly made the flock of 25 sheep for the Samuel Slater Experience fundraiser.
Not wool but fiberglass
“The sheep are made with fiberglass with polyurethane-binding resins,” said Daniele Vohland, who founded Icon Poly with her husband, Kyle. “So the based material is a polyurethane resin and then we mix in fiberglass with it to make it durable.”
For more than two decades, Icon Poly has churned out thousands of life-size (and often larger than life-size) fiberglass sculptures, including guitars for Cleveland, water towers for Chicago, lobsters and scallop shells for Plymouth, herons for Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, streetcars for Tampa, Florida, and rockets for Stamford, Connecticut.
To make the sheep, Samuel Slater Experience provided a design that they liked and Icon Poly’s design team created a 3-D file. After approval, Icon Poly made a negative impression mold, did a resin casting, primed the end product and then shipped them out, Vohland said.
The mold itself could take two weeks, she said.
“Once you have the mold, the casting process takes about 20 to 30 minutes, and then we have postproduction,” Vohland said. “With the sheep, each one would take about an hour to cast and prep for primer.”
Not only did Webster Five sponsor one of the sheep, it named it “Cash-mere” and strategically placed it at Thompson Road and Lake Avenue in Webster.
With a (painted) $100 bill for a bowtie and coins for buttons “Cash-mere” is decorated with money market images including a dollar sign, ATM, piggy bank and the financial institution’s logo.
“We were so thrilled that we were able to help Samuel Slater Experience in this wonderful project of giving back to the community,” Brenda Sullivan, market manager at Webster Five, said. “And we were able to have a great artist (Pam Redick) that designed this for us.”
Sheep by Webster Town Hall
Outside Webster Town Hall are two sheep – one sponsored by Jeffco Fibres and painted by Maria Palkon depicting “shepherds by day and by night” and the other by Dudley-based Rampco Construction Co. Inc.’s reflecting working heavy construction juxtaposed with holidays in the sun, one of several sheep painted by Dave Laabs.
In addition, Laabs, who is the owner of the Airbrush Shack in Thompson, Connecticut, served as the artist consultant on the Slater’s Sheep project.
And it turns out that Rampco is such a big fan of the sheep project that they bought two heads of the festive fiberglass flock.
Right next door outside at the Gladys E. Kelly Library is a sheep named Hiram covered with colorful and festive images of the Webster Masonic Lodge painted by Karen Malo.
“Charity and Masons go hand in hand. We love to help out our local communities in any way we can,” Masonic Lodge member Adam Rorh said. “Many of us, if not all, are fascinated by history and loved the idea of a museum in our hometown showcasing our tiny town’s illustrious past.”
Across the street in front of the Webster Police Department is the JV Mechanical Contractors-sponsored sheep. Once again decorated by Laabs, the sheep depicts the history of the plumbing industry in the area.
The life-size Merion sheep cost $875 each to produced, plus $3,500 to deliver the whole flock in a tractor-trailer from Nebraska to Webster, Vohland said.
Samuel Slater Experience sold the sheep to sponsors for $2,900. In addition, the museum paid each artist a stipend, Van Reed said.
“We had so many people interested. And what was really great. It was all kinds of groups,” Van Reed said. “We had big local businesses, several banks, organizations and we also had interests outside of Webster, Dudley and Oxford.”
In Dudley, Marty’s Liquor Store at 119 West Main St. has a Jennifer and Julie Gatzke-decorated sheep sporting a “Indian Star” quilt design in a tribute to the textile industry.
“We love our sheep,” store manager Donna Puchalski said. “He’s friendly but he scares a lot of dogs away. The dogs bark at him but we love him.”
Standing on the lawn in front of the Oxford Public Library, Swissturn/USA Inc.’s adopted sheep Maizy is an absolute marvel to behold. Rebecca Hope and Corey Mitchell’s conceptual design captures the multifaceted nature of the screw machine’s state-of-the-art technology for milling, drilling, boring, turning and threading.
“Bringing in the idea of Slater’s work with steel and all our own personal backgrounds in metal, we began to articulate the sheep in a three-dimensional sense,” Hope said. “We were also charmed with the idea that the actual welded steel and metals would rust overtime in the environment, creating a beautiful contrast to the copper paint that would remain.”
Oxford also has one at Central Mass. Auto Auction, 12 Industrial Park Road E.
“I came up with the idea of taking the old-school diner-esque feel of the auction house with my favorite car, a 1973 Corvette Stingray,” Hope said. “I used a stencil to perfect the CMAA logo on a sign, taking inspiration from 70’s advertisements. On the other side, I painted the yellow ‘73 Corvette Stingray on a road with sun beating down on it. I incorporated racing stripes on the sheep as well as fluffy clouds across its body.”
Well-equipped for weather
Despite looking a little sheepish in its new surroundings, the Slater’s Sheep should weather New England winters with no problem, Vohland said.
“The product is very universal for extreme heats and extreme cold. The based product is designed for exterior,” Vohland said of the sheep. “We actually have some sculptures down in Venice, Florida, right now that just went through Hurricane Ian. We got (fiberglass) dolphins over in Clearwater, Florida, and they have been through multiple hurricanes since 2012. So they are very durable.”
Other locations of sheep on public display are Samuel Slater’s Restaurant and Christopher Heights, both in Webster.
Painted by artist Linda Littleton, the Webster Dudley Business Alliance is sponsoring a sheep (named Millie) that will “roam” to various members’ businesses.
Bennet J. Smith Jr. and Carol H. Smith of Webster also sponsored a Jennifer and Julie Gatzke-designed sheep to be placed somewhere on Main Street in Webster.
“Carol Smith and I collaborated on a design incorporating an eastern woodland Nipmuc settlement, area wildlife and our beloved Main Street,” Jennifer Gatzke said. “The village site depicts the view from Carol’s home and features a railroad bed of the never-completed portion of the Grand Trunk Railway.”
More sheep will be put out to pasture in the coming weeks by their new owners.
Choice1Temps and Choice1Graphic will have sheep grazing along the already busy Main Street in Webster.
Webster police and several police associations have joined forces and funds for their very own sheep to be standing guard outside the station, and the Webster Medical Center will sponsor a sheep at a location to be announced.
Sheep for Aubuchon Hardware and Webster First Federal Credit Union, decorated by artists Collen Richard and Laabs, respectively, are both being clear-coated.
Sheltered at the Samuel Slater Experience is a sheep sponsored by Galaxy Development LLC in Sutton that will find a home at the Webster-Dudley Boys & Girls Club, and an IPG Photonics of Oxford sheep is slated for residence outside the Webster Fire Department.
“The story of the New England mills is the story of immigrants building America, and at this time in U.S. history it is certainly a privilege to celebrate our strength in differences. The American flag embraces all the nations and ethnic groups that fueled our industrial revolution,” artist Jennifer Gatzke said of the IPG Photonics-sponsored sheep. “Flags were chosen based on local family histories, as well as a student research paper outlining the successive waves of immigrants supporting the early woolen mills. An antique map and travel trunk symbolize the journey.”
In addition, the Aspinock Historical Society will place a sheep somewhere in Putnam, Connecticut, while Blackstone Valley Tourism Council will place their own wooly buddy somewhere in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Story by: Craig S. Semon for Telegram & Gazette