Michael Landa's Daily Inspiration
Walking into the communal area of Nulo Pet Food’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, you’re greeted by warm smiles, wagging tails and a larger-than-life sculpture of a barrel-chested black Labrador. Head held high, tail outstretched, the sculpture captures the solid form and affectionate spirit of Max, a dog who loved hiking, swimming, a vigorous game of fetch and spending time with his best friend—Nulo founder Michael Landa. And the sculpture is made entirely out of crayons.
“Max was the best dog and the best companion I’ve ever had,” says Landa, motioning to the unique work of art. “This sculpture represents my expression of love for the most special animal I’ve ever met.”
When Max died in in the summer of 2018, Landa wasn’t ready to say goodbye. The pair had been almost inseparable for every minute of every day since Max was eight weeks old, and Landa wanted to commemorate his friend in a way that would allow Max’s spirit to remain a part of his daily routine.
“It’s been nine months now since Max’s passing, and I still have his beds and toys scattered throughout my house,” he says. “I’m still not ready to not have him be such a big part of each and every day. I was traveling in Las Vegas, and I came across a crayon sculpture of a dog in the lobby of the Four Seasons. I instantly fell in love with the style, the textures and the use of materials. I was staring at this work of art, and a security guard walked up to me and said, ‘Just Google Crayon artist Nashville, and you’ll be amazed.’”
Crayon Artist Nashville
"Crayon artist Nashville" is also known as Herb Williams, a sculptor, painter and artist who works in countless different formats and materials. But he’s most widely known for creating original sculptures from hundreds of thousands of individual Crayola crayons, a medium so unique and that Williams uses in such quantity, he is one of the only individuals in the world to have a personal account with Crayola.
Williams’ work has been exhibited in galleries and children’s hospitals, and featured in media outlets around the world. Some of his art even found a home in a collection at the Obama White House. But when he was first approached by Landa about creating a sculpture to memorialize Max, he was somewhat hesitant.
“Max was the first pet I was ever commissioned to do,” he remembers. “Capturing a specific dog is not easy, especially if you've never met the dog, you know? But Michael showed me photographs, and Max was gorgeous, the best example of his breed. And Michael kept sending me pictures and talking about Max and what it is Nulo does, and it just made sense.”
A Little Bit of Heaven
A lifelong dog owner, Williams completely understands Landa’s love for Max—“Nobody is ever going to love you the way your dog loves you,” he says—and that understanding infused the creation of Max’s sculpture.
“Max was incredibly expressive and intelligent, and he had a sense of humor unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a dog," Landa explains. "Herb’s use of intermittent color throughout the sculpture gives Max an almost whimsical and approachable form, really capturing that sense of humor and bringing it to life.”
Landa and the team at Nulo invited Williams down to Austin for the sculpture’s unveiling. It was a visit that further opened Williams’ eyes to Max’s spirit, and how that spirit permeates the Nulo ethos.
“It's perfect for their office,” says Williams. “Originally, I think Michael thought about putting it in his home. But, you know, Max was not a small dog, so the sculpture is not a small thing to walk around.” Laughs Landa, “It’s larger than life-size, and the frame and base are so substantial that the entire piece would overwhelm the area where I intended to put him in my house. So, it was either build a bigger house, or bring him to Nulo. And as I thought about it, I spend more of my waking life in the office, so it made perfect sense that he belongs here.” Williams smiles as he remembers his visit to Nulo to see Max’s sculpture on display.
“I think it was ‘bring your pet to work day’, which must be every day there,” he laughs. “Everybody was cool, and with all these dogs walking around the office, it was like a little bit of heaven.”
“Everybody knew Max, and everybody's just standing in front of the sculpture, and it was kind of like, ‘I'm not crying, you're crying.’ You know? It was a special moment. You could see just how much Max meant to everybody. It was really moving. It was a gift.”
Passing “The Max Test”
Walking away from the Nulo offices that day, Williams says he gained a deeper understanding of what Max meant to Landa, the team at Nulo and the company’s mission to inspire pet parents to be healthier together with their pets.
“I think Max is the reason why Michael works so hard to make Nulo the best food out there, period. It just happens to be food for pets,” he says. “I wish we had more folks like that.”
Landa agrees. “I started Nulo for Max, and for all the dogs and cats out there," he says. "The sculpture reminds me every day as I walk into the office why I’m doing what I’m doing.
“Nulo’s mission is to build better-for-them food products and inspire pet parents to be mindful of the nutrition that they are putting into their pet’s bodies each and every day. All of our products need to pass ‘the Max test’; my motto from the beginning has always been, 'If I wouldn’t feed it to Max, I won’t make it.'"
As for Williams, he couldn’t be happier that his first commissioned sculpture of a pet turned out to be Max, and that Max inspires the team at Nulo on a daily basis.
“You know, when you spend that much time creating something, you hope that people understand the value of your art and that it will go to a good home,” he says. “But having Max’s sculpture find a home at Nulo is more than I could have asked for.”