A fine art photographer turns her lens on the splendor of the U.S. while honoring service animals
By Wendy Wollenberg
It all started with a sweater. Stacey P. Morgan, a fine art photographer and lifelong dog lover, bought her 10-year-old Hungarian Vizsla, Delta, a hand-knit sweater depicting the American flag for Christmas 2009. “It was the first piece of clothing I ever bought for him,” Morgan recalls. “But I couldn’t pass it up; it was so elegant and I have always loved the American flag.”
A few months later, Morgan was tagging along as her daughter went door-to-door selling Girl Scout cookies. The group offered an option to buy a box for troops serving overseas through the USO, an idea that stuck with Morgan. She wondered what she could do in her line of work to help support servicemen and women. These two seemingly unconnected events planted the seed for Morgan’s new line of “PAWtriotic” greeting cards and a 2012 calendar starring Delta in his now-famous sweater posing at historic sites. The project will benefit America’s VetDogs, a national nonprofit that trains assistance dogs for disabled veterans and active duty personnel. The series will launch on September 11, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. Morgan was living near New York City at the time of 9/11, and her now 10-year-old twins were born just a few days beforehand.
This series of events is indicative of Morgan’s life and career, which she has found to unfold organically, with one circumstance naturally leading to the next. Upon moving back to her hometown of Wayne, PA, Morgan set up her photography business and began working at a local art center, all the while raising her two children. After surviving breast cancer and a debilitating bout with shingles brought on by stress, Morgan realized what she really wanted to be doing: taking photos of animals. “I’ve always focused on animals in my work,” says Morgan, who has a background in photojournalism. “But I knew the time was right to take it a step further.”
Morgan began a grassroots marketing campaign for her “PETrait” photography business, approaching a local pet store and her vet’s office to hang her work and donating pieces to benefit Pals For Life, a pet therapy organization. She soon met Amy Parsons, lead trainer and owner of Canine Creature Comforts, a neighborhood daycare, boarding, and training business. Morgan and Parsons teamed up to offer studio sessions with dogs as part of the facility’s offerings.
It was at this time that Morgan switched from her usual black-and-white film to using a digital camera. Delta, who was always Morgan’s muse, now became her test subject. She took him to the nearby Valley Forge Park in his American flag sweater and created the first “PAWtriotic” image, a photo entitled “Warm Your Heart.” Since then, Delta has been photographed at several historic locations in the Philadelphia area, including the Philadelphia National Cemetery, the Betsy Ross House, and Independence Hall. A trip to New York brought Delta to Ground Zero for a Memorial Day photo session.
Morgan envisions the “PAWtriotic” series evolving and is considering opening it up to the public, asking people to submit their ideas about other historic sites and stories about their own dogs. “I can even see this becoming a book,” Morgan says.
Of course, Morgan’s partnership with America’s VetDogs came about serendipitously, as well. “I was looking for an organization that would be a good fit for the ‘PAWtriotic’ series,” says Morgan. “My friend heard about America’s VetDogs on National Public Radio and told me about them. I’ve found the group to be so well organized, and it’s been a pure pleasure to work with them on this project.”