Island artist Sean Roach’s phone rang on April 23 — it was Boston Calling.
The three-day music festival takes place at Harvard Atlantic Complex in Allston, and has grown into a local music institution. Since the Boston Calling festival’s founding in 2013, it’s widely recognized by a logo of a Boston terrier sporting a tuxedo. On April 23, the Madison Square Garden Co., a group that owns Boston Calling, asked Roach to bring the dapper canine to life.
Thirty-five days and over 300 hours later, Roach is putting the final touches on a 7-foot terrier wearing a suit, a vest, and bowtie in his studio garage in Vineyard Haven. The festival is this weekend.
“That was just a block of foam not too long ago,” his wife Heather Dyas-Fried said.
High-density polyurethane foam, to be exact. It’s a captivating sight — if it’s not the two brown, startlingly realistic eyes that lock with yours while you stare at the giant dog with fascination, it’s the size and detail of the sculpture that make you want to stick around, observe, and ask, How in the world did one person do this?
Roach turned a block of soft foam into a work of art through a meticulous process of carving, shaping, coating with epoxy, sanding, painting, and airbrushing. He works 10 to 12 hours a day, with close to no interruptions.
“I’m completely engrossed,” Roach said. “My mind has to be totally present in the moment and focused on the project.”
Problem solving is his favorite part of the job. His client calls him frequently, requesting design alterations.
“They called me yesterday and told me they wanted to add a boutonniere, so I’m working on that right now,” he said as he held up a white-coated foam flower in the process of being brought to life.
Roach and his family moved to the Island from the Philadelphia area in August 2017. He was a kids’ television show host for six years on “The Sunny Side Up Show” and “Noodle and Doodle” on Sprout Network. He stopped four years ago to focus on his artistry — particularly sculpture.
Roach has worked on Broadway sets, Busch Garden structures, and designed the Mr. Peanut sculpture on the Atlantic City boardwalk in New Jersey. “That’s how I learned to do stuff, on the job,” Roach said.
That’s also how the Madison Square Garden Co. caught wind of Roach’s work. This isn’t his first rodeo. This is, however, his first time living on an Island.
The extra hop over the Vineyard Sound makes supplies more difficult and expensive to obtain. As newcomers, Roach and Dyas-Fried quickly learned how to utilize their community as a resource. When the foam couldn’t be directly shipped to the Island, they had it shipped to Dyas-Fried’s co-worker’s place in Plymouth. When Roach realized he didn’t have a real Boston terrier to reference, he left a note on a woman’s car he saw walking with a lively little companion at Five Corners. When he realized he needed an airbrush for shading and dark to light shadows, he couldn’t run out to Walmart, so acquired one by word of mouth.
“I’m working with automotive paint, which is harder to blend,” Roach said. “The key to airbrushing is you don’t know it’s there. It just looks like shadows.”
Roach works with clear-as-day passion, and loves getting lost in his art.
“I’m so happy to have this job,” he said. “I was a painter for years, an actor for years, but I love being a sculptor.”
The final product was shipped to Boston on Tuesday. Roach will spend a of couple days installing and parting ways with his piece. “We’re going to have a tear fest,” he said.
With two young kids at home, Roach and Dyas-Fried aren’t planning to attend the festival, but they’re looking forward to hearing the audience’s reaction. It will be mounted on a platform for over 40,000 people to see, standing 15 feet tall, with the main stage as its backdrop. Two security guards will maintain it throughout the weekend, and festivalgoers can line up to take photos. It will ideally be a festival fixture for years to come.
Inside his Vineyard Haven home, massive murals with breathtaking detail are mounted on or leaning against almost every wall. “A lot of Sean’s paintings touch on social issues,” Dyas-Fried said. She’s also Roach’s manager.
His paintings are so detailed, they look like photographs. One image shows a group of teens discovering a gun in the middle of thick woods.
“It shows the radicalization, fascination, and the emotional reaction,” Dyas-Fried said. “What’s this one called again?”
“A Legacy of Violence,” Roach said.
“A beautiful name, Daddy,” their son added.
He’s hoping to get his work into Island galleries soon. In the meantime, it’s all about the sculptor and the Boston terrier.