Seven years ago, British retirees Derek Philpott and Wilf Turnbull began writing letters to pop stars that asked questions about the intricacies of their lyrics. Surprisingly, they began to receive earnest replies from artists such as Rick Wakeman (Yes), Nik Kershaw, and Chris Difford (Squeeze).
While Derek hunkered away penning the letters, his wife, Jean, decided to complement the hobby by making her own pun-based, pop-star clay animals such as Lorrissey, Mick Ducknall, and Piggy Pop. As word about Jean’s creations caught on and offers were made to buy them, she decided to set up Philpottery, a bespoke handicrafts company in England, which now also specializes in turning photographs of pets into fridge magnets.
Off the back of a hectic holiday season bustling with orders, I spoke to Jean about the dog-model side of her business, her pop-star pun creations, and why she decided to donate part of the proceeds from the venture to the Dogs Trust organization.
Dogster: How do you go about translating the personality of a dog from a photograph into a sculpted magnet?
Jean Philpott: I think that a dog’s personality shines through the face, just as it does with a human. I always ask the person for whom I am making the magnet to send me the picture they would like me to make the model from and also a few more. From this, I can see the dog in different lights and situations, and I can try to translate it into a 3D model.
For instance, I have just finished making a model of a lovely Ridgeback cross called Toffee — in the main photo she looks like a very noble beast, but from some of the other pictures I could see how much she loves her family and how much they love her, so I tried to inject a little of that sweet nature into it, too. I also take great care to model the eyes. Doggy eyes are so soulful, and you can show so much through them.
What do you think appeals to people about the idea of paying tribute to their dog via a fridge magnet?
Anyone with a dog will be able to tell you that they are so much a part of the family that it’s hard to imagine life without them being there. Photos are lovely, but what I am trying to do is to make something really tangible and tactile and three dimensional. I like to think that my magnets and plaques are a talking point, and because they are all handmade there’s a story behind it too.
Over Christmas, I was commissioned to make a present for a lady whose dear dog Arthur had passed away many years ago. I was given photos of him, and the gentleman who commissioned it told me a little bit about him and how he was adorable, loyal, and cheeky — although also a little smelly and dribbly at times! He contacted me shortly after Christmas to tell me that the recipient was so touched by seeing her Arthur immortalized that she was teary and emotional. That meant so much to me.
You also have a line based around animal puns on pop star names. Which ones are you most proud of?
Mostly my husband and I come up with the puns, and it’s a lot of fun! Sometimes a fan will request something, and I will make it for them — I’m about to start work on Tori A. Moose this week. My personal favorites are The Snoutorious P.I.G., Lady Budgeri-Ga-Ga, Michael Stipe from RRRRRR.E.M.
My absolute favorite is Nine Inch Snails, which was coincidentally the very first one we came up with when we started. It has proved to be such a hit with our Facebook friends that I have made a whole army of them for people, and they now adorn fridges and mantelpieces all over the world!
So, which pop star dogs would you pick to make up the ultimate pop group?
Bruce Springer-stein would definitely have to be there, then Jarvis Cocker-Spaniel (Pulp), Pomeran-Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Mark King Charles Spaniel (Level 42), and on drums we’d have Ginger Barker (Cream)!
Are there any famous people who own dogs who you’d love to create a magnet for?
My husband is a big fan of Mickey Rourke, so I would love to make him one or both of his beloved Chihuahuas, Loki and Jaws, whom he sadly lost. They were such beautiful little doggies, and he absolutely worshipped them.
You donate part of the proceeds from your sales to the Dogs Trust. Why did you make that decision?
Derek and I are animal lovers, and the plasticine pop star animals got such a positive reaction from Derek’s Facebook friends that we could see that a lot of them are, too. Then when Philpottery came along and I started to do pet portraits, it became obvious how big a part of what Philpottery does is based around animals.
We have friends who have adopted animals from Dogs Trust, and so my husband and I are very aware of the wonderful work it does. It’s very upsetting to think of the thousands of abandoned and abused animals out there; it’s horrific to think that anyone can have such a callous attitude toward a defenseless creature.
Dogs Trust is there to care and rehabilitate those poor souls who have had terrible lives and have been subjected to unbelievable cruelty. Dogs Trust never puts a healthy dog down and will do its best to rehome as many as it can, and look after the ones who cannot be placed. People can donate as little as a pound a week to sponsor dogs who have had a bad start in life. We applied to be a corporate friend of the trust, so those who order one of our pet portraits can be assured that they are giving something to animals who have not been so lucky as their own pets.
Finally, do you and Derek have any dogs?
Not presently, because we have a tortoiseshell cat named Gladys. We took her in when her previous owner’s little one became allergic and they couldn’t keep her any more, and they regretfully had to find a new home for her. We are really dog people — please don’t tell Gladys, she’d be furious! — but she was such a cute bundle of fluff that when we saw her we couldn’t resist. We fell in love with her instantly, and we adore her. Unfortunately, Gladys is a bit of a diva, and I think she might not get along with a puppy if we got one.
Before Gladys, we did have a dog, named Cilla, who was a beautiful jet-black crossbreed. She had wonderful expressive brown eyes, and she was so very clever. I have so many warm, funny, beautiful memories of her — we were inseparable. She lived a very long and contented life and passed away at the grand old age of 19. When people say that dogs become another family member, it’s no lie — they read your emotions and are wonderful friends and comfort through good times and bad.
Mosey on over to the Philpottery Facebook page to check out the full range of Jean’s pun-tastic handicrafts — and tell them Dogster sent you!
Read more about dogs in art on Dogster:
About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.