CORTEZ – Peter “The Dog Man” Osman has spent the past 30 years making his whimsical “Doggone” sculptures and the past two years selling them at Bunny & Pirates Bazaar in his new hometown of Cortez.
Osman, 67, is now fighting stage 4 prostate cancer and doing all he can do to continue his life and life’s work.
“I used to say I will never move to Florida and I will never live in a trailer and here I am,” Osman joked when discussing the move he and his partner, Holly, made from Portland, Maine.
After discovering abstract art, Osman moved to New York City and toiled for years as an abstract artist who supplemented his income working in restaurants at night.
“I was supposed to be an English teacher, but I wanted to play music and paint. Abstract art has a very small clientele base. It’s fun to make, but it’s also very pensive. People want to see the bird and the barn,” he said.
Osman’s artistic pivot occurred when he started drawing outlines of dogs, which ultimately inspired his sculptures.
“I grew up in the cartoon era, where every dog was over-accentuated and comical – they had a big black nose, big ears and blubbery lips. I thought to myself, ‘This is funny, and fun.’ And growing up, I always had a dog,” he said.
Osman creates the skeletal frames for his sculptures by shaping tubes he makes out of newspaper and tin foil. He then wraps the tubular frames with orthopedic bandages, reinforces the joints and ears with an epoxy mixture and coats his sculptures with enamel paint.
“It’s a lot more resilient than papier-mâché. I think I’m the only person on the planet that does it this way,” he said. “The last thing I do, which I find kind of magical, is put the eyes in. The eyes give it the personality. The eyes bring it alive.
“They’re all kind of long and cartoonish. When I do shows, I get a lot of laughter and smiles – a lot of what you don’t get from regular art. I feel I give so much joy to people with my dogs – it’s just delicious the effect they have on people. I just want to stay strong enough to keep making them,” Osman said.
Osman used to sell his sculptures at art shows in the New England area and in New York. After moving to Cortez, he approached Bunny & Pirates’ owners Elizabeth Shore and Jeffrey O’Connell about selling them at their establishment.
Since then, Bunny & Pirates has sold approximately 50 “Doggone” sculptures, including those sold at the benefit for Osman in April that raised $7,000.
“Each one has character. You fall in love with them. Our clientele and customers totally get it and they take pictures with them even if they don’t buy one,” Shore said.
“I really enjoy their unique personalities. Each one has their own little thing going on like ‘Flower Power Dog’ or ‘Space Dog.’ They definitely introduce themselves,” O’Connell said.
Shore and O’Connell are even bigger fans of the artist himself.
“Peter is an amazing person. He’s wise, he’s quirky, he’s real. He’s a loving guy and we became best friends,” Shore said.
“He’s a unique being,” O’Connell added.
Osman’s sculptures start at $125 and go as high as $450 for a themed sculpture or one commissioned to resemble a particular dog. The ‘Surfer Dog’ at Bunny & Pirates is an example of Osman’s themed work.
“People have asked me to do dogs surfing, kayaking and scuba diving,” he said.
Swordfish Grill General Manager Bob Slicker commissioned Osman to make a sculpture resembling Jackie O., the dog he and Kat Cox adopted.
“Kat and I got this rescue dog within the past year and when I saw the red dog Peter made I thought it looked like Jackie O.,” Slicker said.
“I think it’s awesome. The eyes especially look just like Jackie’s,” Cox said.
Osman’s past clients include “Prairie Home Companion” radio host and author Garrison Keillor.
“I’m on the upper west side of New York, I’ve got six or seven of these sitting out and a guy stops by and it’s Garrison Keillor,” Osman said.
Osman’s artistic production has slowed in recent months.
“In December, I was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. I never lost faith in the fun and the energy of making the dogs, but my energy’s low because of the radiation,” he said.
“I was also teaching reading over at Kinnan Elementary in Sarasota. Everything stopped because I had to dedicate myself to treatment. I never considered not getting treatment. If something’s going to happen I’ll understand, but I have a choice in this right now. I have my ups and downs, but I have a good support system,” Osman said.
He also offered some advice for others: “I know a lot of guys that have never been tested. Get your PSA checked. The earlier the better.”
For those diagnosed with prostate cancer, Osman said, “Advocate to get a proper biopsy done to find everything hidden in there.”
When asked if there’s anything the community can do to help him, Osman said, “They can pay attention to themselves.”