Zelienople man preserves spirit of clients' pets through art

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 6:01 p.m.

Norman Marek turns the pages of a photo album documenting 30 years of his artwork.

Amid the charcoal drawings, pastels and oil paintings are snapshots of smiling people clutching renderings of their beloved pets.

For Zelienople resident Sandy Scheller, commissioning an animal portrait was a way to bring closure after the death of her cat, Jake. The female domestic shorthair and her sister, Emma, were born on Scheller's front porch and never left each other's side.

Marek was able to immortalize the two felines, who died young of rare illnesses.

Scheller presented the colorful portrait to her husband, Rick, as an anniversary gift. The memorial hangs in the couple's dining room.

“It's therapeutic,” she said. “I love looking at it. It does not bring sad memories, only good ones.”

Creating these sentimental masterpieces is healing for Marek, as well.

“Once I start drawing, time passes so quickly,” he said. “It's almost like a meditation.”

The chiropractor, 49, spends his free time sketching and painting in his Zelienople home. Woodland creatures and ducks frolic on the front lawn, providing constant inspiration.

As a kid in Wilkes-Barre, Marek could often be found outside with a pencil and a pad.

“I was always infatuated with drawing animals,” said the artist, who studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Marywood University and Luzerne County Community College.

Over the years, his subjects have ranged from dogs and cats to parrots and guinea pigs to the humans who love them.

When he's not busy with customer orders — which can take anywhere from a few hours to a month, depending on the size and medium — he focuses on a large portrait of Tiga, the German shepherd he recently lost to cancer.

With a stick sandwiched between her paws and a lolling, pink tongue, Tiga looks like she's ready to jump out of the frame and play fetch.

“Capturing their personality is probably the most important thing to do,” Marek said. “You have to pay special attention to the eyes — they're the windows to the soul.”

Using only photographs for reference, Marek illustrated the playfulness of Elmer Scherder's three Doberman pinchers — Presley, Pacer and CeCe — who are all alive and well.

“He did a very nice job,” Scherder said of the portrait, which he bought for his wife, Louella. “She loves it and wouldn't trade it for the world.”

This summer, Marek plans to showcase his talent at regional art festivals, where he hopes to connect with fellow animal enthusiasts and, perhaps, comfort those who are mourning the loss of a pet.

“I never realized how much of a difference it made in a lot of people's lives,” he said of his business. “For me, that is just the greatest. I love what I do.”

Kristy Locklin is a freelance writer.

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