It’s quiet in Wegman’s studio, which you reach by making your way through the lodge’s living room, where Lola is stretched out on the couch, deeply immersed in a book. Go past the kitchen, where Burgin, a Yale-educated publisher and former gallery owner who produces books with artists and writers, sits editing at a small table. Then cross the rec-room, still adorned with the kids’ childhood drawings and art projects, and through the double doors of the studio.
When it storms, raindrops dance on the metal roof. Otherwise, as Wegman paints—which he does every day here—the only apparent noises are the occasional snurfle and steady breathing of the four dogs arrayed around him.
“As a kid, I always loved rainy days like this,” says Wegman. “I was painting and drawing and hanging out in the woods. It was probably the most dreamy, wonderful counterpoint to my life as a fisherman/athlete, which was the other thing I liked to do as a child … play hockey, baseball, go fishing, build huts, that kind of stuff. So that’s what I’ve been doing in Maine, kind of recreating my childhood in a way.”
Like a spirited marching band, the dogs follow Wegman wherever he goes, watching his face intently, looking for cues. They jockey for the closest position, happy to soak up his praise and nestle by his side while he reads, paints or sleeps. The feeling is clearly mutual. “Don’t they look beautiful when they’re sleeping? I could never keep them off the furniture. Why would I do that? I just love looking at them. Having them near, in close contact … it feels good.”
The dogs thrive on direction and novel activities, and are always eager to be part of the action. All it takes for Topper and Flo to perk up is for Wegman to restack some magazines or randomly reshuffle the stools; suddenly, the dogs are racing to find a perch and posing as though a shoot is about to begin. Referring to the breed’s active and sporting nature, Wegman says, “They’re working dogs. And they love to work!”
Wegman’s devotion to the dogs and their care is made obvious by how his life and that of the family’s is built around an awareness of the dogs’ needs. “It’d be hard for me to have one dog, because I like to just stand back and watch the show, like I do with my two kids: you watch them interact. So, now I have these two gray sets. I have Bobbin and Candy, who were mates. They had a litter, and then there’s Flo and Topper. I had to get Topper to give Flo a companion, somebody to play with.”
The dogs are most content when Wegman is around to keep them well exercised and entertained, so long trips away from home are rare. “I’ve spent my whole life watching and caring for them and trying to figure out what works for them. The reason I’m good at taking their picture is that I’m good at taking care of them, and I respect what they want. I’m always trying to learn what makes them individually happy.”
Wegman’s good-natured approach to raising dogs also reflects his child-raising philosophy. When Atlas and Lola were young, he recalls building towering cardboard structures together.
“When things fell apart, and failed, that’s when we had the most fun.” Exploration, not the pursuit of perfection, was the lesson, and watching Wegman paint, there’s little doubt that he adopted the same mindset regarding his own work long ago.
Sandy Beach, 2007,
oil and postcards on wood panel
Wegman is currently working on a new series of children’s books. The first, Flo & Wendell, debuted in September 2013 and tells the story of a sister and brother and their adventures. This new series—and the paintings that illustrate each book—hews closely to techniques the artist employs in his postcard paintings, which begin with vintage postcards selected from his vast collection. They provide a physical starting point for the larger work, which is painted around the postcard like a sprout that blooms into an exuberant forest. His book Hello Nature (2012) features many of these postcard paintings, along with drawings, collages and prose —paeans to his love of the outdoors.