A New York City landmark, The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the building that is an inspiration for Episcopalians from all around and the church grounds are a popular place to find dog owners of many different denominations taking a charming stroll. Church leaders were elated with all the circulation, because the animal loving ministry held a blessing for creatures both large and small every St. Francis day. Yet they started to become discouraged when they noticed their holy area being sullied by incontinent doggies. Even though the church felt they were in a war against dog poop, they did not want to prohibit people walking their animals so they turned to Michael Bierut, who made signs professionally for the company Pentagram, to create some that would give a small sermon and teach the values of fellowship, respect, and the right way to remove poop from the sacred grounds.
The imaginative lead person for this idea wanted signs which would inspire visitors to keep their dogs off the lawn and walked on a leash. Yet past that, the head of the project, Jesse Reed had no more routes to follow. Many top creative individuals would have turned their noses up at this type of boring, seemingly tedious venture, but Reed decided it was a project that deserved his undivided attention and he was going to give it his all. He felt that it could be exciting for the church to make up unique signs instead of just going to the store and buying something that was there on one of the shelves. He added that The Cathedral was very much a place of worship, yet it was also a social organization and a center for the entire community and that means its audience is very large.
The idea of using Bible phrases from the Old Testament, and then mixing them with a little New York sass, came almost instantly. Wording was twisted around somewhat, but phrases such as ”Leash ye Beast” and “Save thy Grass” were omitted for other catchier phrases that were taken from scripture as well. It was basically an unadorned English translation that was added for comedy, and also for atheists. There was a color scheme selected specifically so that it would mix into the green space. However it still had enough distinction to evangelize its ecological message.
They sent one choice for each of the first three signs, says Reed, and the entire process was apparently guided by divine intervention, since the customers agreed upon the first version of each of the three that they were given. But then they discovered the delicate balance between being sassy and blasphemy might be a challenge. Misappropriating the typestyles and formal fundamentals of the church is one thing, but making a scatological based 11th commandment might ruffle the feathers of some of the more old-fashioned members of the flock, not to mention they had bought the signs from a company named Pentagram.
It would come down to somehow being able to find the appropriate sense of balance, judgment, and wisdom of the sign designers and the humor of the church. They wanted to push as far as they could before they were told they were nuts, explained Reed. They were thankful that did not happen that much. The completed designs were consecrated by the church’s leadership, and now have become such a popular item that they are considering preserving them in the gift shop. Well maybe instead just getting some copies to sell. The church going to war against dog poop may end up making The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine some money in the long run.
Written by: Kimberly Ruble