The panda doctor will see you…

Howard Connelly just got a job that by most standards shouldn’t even exist. His newest responsibility is to make structural repairs to sculpted pandas that have been vandalized this summer.

While some see it as a tragedy that the art has come under attack, he sees a certain beauty in the nature of the project that leaves the artists’ work exposed, even to the worst of critics.

“Some are ugly as sin, but others some people will say is their favorite one. You can’t regulate peoples’ reactions to everything,” Connelly said. “Some people are immature, but what can you say? It doesn’t surprise me. I wish people didn’t do it, but the nature of the project is vulnerability.”

It’s a mystery to him that some pandas have come under attack while others remain unscathed.

“You don’t want something ultra-protected,” Connelly said. “They’re like a mural. Some get vandalized, and some never get touched. It’s sort of enigmatic reason. Some people automatically respect something but others get tagged every day. Who knows the reason why it happens.”

Connelly is no stranger to the pandas. In addition to repairing them, he designed one that resides near the Farragut West Metro station. Working as a professional sculptor who provides services for a wide range of clients allows Connelly to become quite familiar with this medium of art.

“My regular job is a sculptor, and I do decorative centerpiece artwork for restaurants, exhibit work for museums and custom props for advertising.

“The fiberglass stuff I’ve done ranges from stuff kids play on to surf boards to boats,” he continued. “There’s a wide range of projects.”

While Connelly is responsible for repairing the basic panda structure, it is the individual artists who make the cosmetic paint repairs.

“I’ve got to sculpt (the limbs) out of foam … and then it’s a matter of building the epoxy resin and fiber glass cloth to build a strong cover and make it look original … so artist can finish it,” he said.

He was approached by the city to repair the pandas after he started building bases for other artists’ pandas. He said he has enjoyed his experience and is a fan of the type of art that the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities is promoting.

“I like working with them,” he said. “I understand the concept of public art, building stuff for state fairs and building random guerilla acts where I build a costume or machine and roll it in public. I love it when other people do that and volunteer their vision and do something crazy, and I think that’s cool.”

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