Culture: DogPatch
Max Miller’s Canine Kaleidoscope
Pictures in an Exhibition
Max Miller Art

Max Miller is known for abstract paintings that embrace color and line, as well as figurative works with human and animal subjects; dogs are among his favorites. On occasion, he employs both genres in a hybrid style perhaps best described as canine psychedelia. These oils and watercolors explode with color and shimmer with richly decorated backgrounds—it’s as though the dogs have leaped into the paintings and turned to gaze back at us, inviting us to join them. The combination of the two styles is at first disconcerting, but we quickly settle into Miller’s altered reality with its visual cornucopia— traces of Middle Eastern mosaics, bright tie-dye patterns and wild amoebic shapes delight the eye and bring to mind what was called “mind-tripping” back in the day. Careful—you may find yourself leaping into these paintings too…

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Frank Lloyd Wright Doghouse
A one-of-a-kind design

“A house for Eddie is an opportunity,” was Frank Lloyd Wright’s reply to a boy who requested designs for a doghouse from the famous architect. Though he designed many famous buildings and homes in the many decades that he worked in architecture, this is his only known doghouse. 

Jim Berger was 12 when he wrote to Wright and asked if he would design a doghouse for his dog, Eddie. Berger’s parents had a house designed by Wright and Jim really wanted to build a doghouse that would go with the house and that would allow Eddie a comfortable place to rest in the winter. Though Wright was a little too busy at the time working on the design of the Guggenheim, he did send Berger the designs a few months later, free of charge. Berger had planned to pay by saving up money from his job delivering newspapers.

Though the original doghouse was destroyed, Berger and his brother rebuilt it form the original design for a recent documentary about Frank Lloyd Wright called “Romanza.” Though he now has three Beagles, Berger says they prefer to stay in the house, and he hopes that the doghouse will find a home in a museum.

Culture: DogPatch
The Art of Tony Fitzpatrick
Fantastic, Mythic, Realistic Dogs

Two visual parallels best explain the drawing collages of Chicago artist and poet Tony Fitzpatrick: Roman Catholic holy cards and baseball cards. In each of these forms—one sacred, the other vernacular (if not profane)—a primary image is surrounded by other images that combine visually to tell the story of the figure in the center. St. Patrick might be set amidst a four-leaf clover, a banished snake, a Celtic Cross; Babe Ruth among the number 714, a New York Yankees logo, a bat. Both the holy card and the baseball card also include some text, a prayer to the saint or the player’s stats, as Fitzpatrick’s drawing collages include his poetry, laid like the brick walls of the city along the margins of the work.

Fitzpatrick’s collages—which include his poetry, laid like the brick walls of the city along the margins of the work—grow out of his desire to tell stories about Chicago, some person or place or emotion. Around a central drawn image, he builds the collage using the detritus of everyday life: old matchbooks, postcards, cigar bands, advertising, girly magazines, baseball cards, political pamphlets, playing cards, novelty glow-in-the-dark stickers, bus transfers. These physical fragments of everyday life evoke a past Chicago, places long-gone, some forgotten, some dimly remembered, and allow Fitzpatrick to create magical memories of the city.

These images sometimes use dogs: mythic, like Anubis in Apparition of the Honored Chicago Dead, or semi-anthropomorphized, like Blues for Mr. Hound Dog; realistic like Wonder Dog, or fantastic, like Chicago Ghost Dog. Fitzpatrick’s work is both intimately personal and an engagement with everyone’s Chicago. The deep emotional honesty that marks his work comes out perhaps most strongly in the poem Chicago Ghost Dog: “Somewhere in Chicago there is a dog that remembers the stars and my Dad.”

Fitzpatrick learned his Chicago from his father, who was the inspiration for his book-length poem, Bum Town. The best dogs, with their loyalty and devotion, are like members of one’s family, and the image of a stray dog, without family or home, unable to see the stars blotted out by the city’s lights, can haunt us. But if one of those strays remembers Fitzpatrick’s father, and the stars, everything is connected again, the individual and the cosmos, in dreamlike imagery.

His ability to create such magic in words and images is what makes Tony Fitzpatrick one of Chicago’s greatest artists and poets.


Culture: DogPatch
Renaissance Art
An artist’s best friend—the dog in Renaissance painting

Dogs are a common visual motif in Western art and have been called the “artist’s best friend” for their role as companion and life model. The close and accurate observation of animals is a hallmark of Renaissance (and Baroque) art in general, and as the most domesticated and favored of species, it is inevitable that dogs in particular would be well represented. Sketching from life was part of the Renaissance artist’s normal routine, and when artists began to look at the world around them, there was the dog—a ready and willing source of inspiration.

Throughout the Renaissance, dogs abound in art, most often appearing as incidental background motifs, part of a hunting scene, religious, mythological, or allegorical composition, or beside their masters in portraits. However, even a brief accounting of their role in the visual arts of the period involves issues that go well beyond the history of art, including court life, aristocratic tastes and fashion, pet ownership, the status of hunting among the royal and noble classes, developments in the classification of dog breeds and types, and changing views of the intelligence and mental abilities of dogs. For example, although working dogs were ubiquitous in the Renaissance—they turned cooking spits, pulled carts, herded sheep, baited wild animals, and competed in sporting events—their menial status mostly precluded their appearing as such in paintings of the period.   

The first great observer of animals in the Renaissance, Pisanello, produced several sensitively observed studies of dogs, evidently drawn from nature, in a sketchbook in Paris. He used these studies for the Greyhounds, hound, and two small Spaniel-like dogs in the foreground of The Vision of Saint Eustace (fig. 2). Half a century later, Albrecht Dürer rendered dogs with the attention of a portraitist, in silverpoint and ink and wash, leaving us several preparatory drawings of individual animals taken directly from life that exemplify the Renaissance artist’s intensifying quest for accuracy and realism. The tense, nervous hunting dogs in the foreground of his largest engraving, The Vision of Saint Eustace, were realized so persuasively that they served as an important source for subsequent artists who reused them for their own compositions.

Not all depictions of dogs in the Renaissance were lifelike or the result of firsthand observation, however, because many artists viewed animals as merely a vehicle for conveying a bewildering variety of complex and often contradictory symbols. Just as often as dogs were shown in Italian paintings as the companion of the young Tobias, protecting the youth as he wandered far and wide in search of the fish that would cure the blindness of his father, Tobit, they also carried the ancient burden of pariah, or scavenger, dogs, associated in the Old Testament with evil and unclean things, and in the New Testament with Christ’s persecutors. The dog was the faithful attribute of Saints Dominic, Margaret of Cortona, and Roch, as well as of the hunters Diana, Adonis and Cephalus, but it was also a symbol of sexuality and promiscuity. Yet church fathers, scholars, poets, and humanists were symbolized and accompanied by dogs. In Dürer’s engraving of Saint Jerome in His Study (1514; Bartsch 60), the saint works on his letters or translations, while his dog sleeps quietly nearby, a vivid symbol of the contemplative life.

As early as the second half of the 15th century, dogs began to take on an independent existence in art. Their status as objects of favor and prestige among the European ruling families and their owners’ desire for conspicuous display, particularly among the Italian ducal families in Mantua, Ferrara and Florence, resulted in a demand for portraits of individual dogs. In an undated account sent to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, by Zanetto Bugato, one of the items to be paid for was “a portrait of the dog called Bareta.” Francesco Bonsignori is said to have painted for Francesco Gonzaga, 4th Marquis of Mantua, a dog whose likeness was so convincing that one of his own dogs was said to have attacked the painting.

Although dog portraiture per se did not become a widespread practice until the early 18th century, it is clear that Renaissance patrons did not consider their dogs as frivolous or inconsequential elements of their own portraits. Dogs, even today, are natural adjuncts of portraits, appearing as fashion accessories or indications of a sitter’s tastes and interests. Even in the early Renaissance they appear to have been painted from life—surely the little Griffon terrier in Jan van Eyck’s Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife (fig. 4) is a family pet and stares boldly at the beholder, irrespective of his role as a traditional attribute of marital fidelity.

A notable example of a vivid and lifelike dog appearing alongside its owner in Italian painting is the pair of elegant Greyhounds accompanying Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta Kneeling before Saint Sigismondo in Piero della Francesca’s fresco in the Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini. Although bred principally for hunting, Greyhounds were often kept as court pets in great luxury; this pair was a gift from Pier Francesco di Lorenzo de’ Medici. The white Greyhound, lying with outstretched paws, waiting patiently on its master, is especially well rendered. Although these noble dogs have been widely interpreted as symbolic of some virtue like fidelity, they are equally convincing examples of the high value placed upon hunting dogs in the Renaissance and were probably more greatly appreciated by contemporary observers for Piero’s detailed naturalism. Fifteenth-century letters survive in which Italian princes express interest in obtaining fine hunting dogs or giving them as presents. Such dogs often wore costly collars—the dog collars of the Ferrarese court were made by the court goldsmith—and the 1468 inventory of Sigismondo’s possessions shows that he owned a number of elaborate dog collars studded with silver.

The affection that Ludovico II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, had for his dog, Rubino, is confirmed not only through his letters and, following the animal’s death, the erection of a tombstone complete with a sentimental Latin epitaph, but also by the inclusion of the creature itself—a russet-coated Bloodhound-like dog—beneath his chair in Andrea Mantegna’s celebrated fresco depicting Ludovico, his family, and court (1465–1474; Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua). The adjacent fresco, which depicts two huge Mastiffs and other hunting dogs, further attests to the passion for dogs at the Gonzaga court. Another notable representation of a dog in monumental wall painting in the Renaissance is the feathered Saluki with a studded collar in the foreground of Pinturicchio’s Departure of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini for Basel (c. 1503–1507; Cathedral Library, Siena). In this fresco, the animal appears almost as conspicuous as the figure of the future Pope Pius II.

In the 16th century, dogs adorned portraits in a variety of ways intended to reflect the character, strength, and nobility of their owners. Lucas Cranach’s imposing pair of full-length portraits of Henry the Pious, Duke of Saxony, and his wife, Catherine of Mecklenburg (1514; Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden), illustrates the distinctions often made between dogs in royal portraiture: lapdogs represented as exclusively female companions, large hounds depicted as attributes of male virility. The size and prominence of the dog in Antonio Mor’s Cardinal Granvelle’s Dwarf and Dog (c. 1550; Musée du Louvre, Paris)—depicted with such vividness that he can only have been a living dog—suggests that the portrait of the animal interested the patron as much as that of the ornately dressed court dwarf. Increasingly during the 16th-century, dogs appear in portraits not as symbols, or objects of status or ownership, but merely because their masters considered them beloved companions. The Bolognese painter Bartolomeo Passarotti, who included dogs frequently in his late works, summarized explicitly the era’s tender feelings toward dogs in Portrait of a Man with a Dog (c. 1585; Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome), remarkable for the obvious display of affection between the pair.

Italian painters of the 16th century produced a succession of memorable canines that suggests how familiar and admired dogs had become during this period. For Kenneth Clark, the wordless sorrow of Piero di Cosimo’s grieving dog in A Satyr Mourning over a Nymph (fig. 1), “the best-loved dog of the Renaissance,’’ marked the beginning of a long tradition in Western art of investing animals with human characteristics. Other notable depictions of dogs include the beautifully painted hounds in Parmigianino’s frescoes of Diana and Actaeon (c. 1523–1524; Camerino, Rocca Sanvitale, Fontanellato); Jacopo da Pontormo’s dog, drawn from life with its back arched, stretching itself in the lunette fresco depicting Vertumnus and Pomona (1520–1521; Gran Salone, Villa Medici, Poggio a Caiano); Dosso Dossi’s white dog in the foreground of Circe and Her Lovers in a Landscape (c. 1511–1512; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); and Federico Barocci’s brown-and-white puppy appealing to the spectator at the extreme lower right of the Madonna del Popolo (1575–1579; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence).

It is in the work of the Venetian painters Carpaccio, Titian, Bassano, and Veronese, however, that canine imagery flourished in a sustained fashion. One of the first Renaissance painters to employ scenes of everyday life in his work, Vittore Carpaccio gave particular prominence to dogs in two vastly different contexts: as a symbol of carnality or animal appetite at the feet of a seated courtesan (c. 1495; Museo Correr, Venice), and as a symbol of the attributes of a scholar in the form of a fluffy white Bichon in Saint Augustine’s study (c. 1502; Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice).

With his preference for naturalistic form, Titian played an especially significant role in the promotion of the dog in the visual arts. In the portrait Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, the gesture of the white Maltese-type dog pawing his master is especially appropriate, as the duke’s love for his dogs was well known; in the spring of 1525 he owned no fewer than 111 dogs. The keenly observed dogs in Titian’s portraits appear as solid and real, as convincing and touching, as the human sitters—for example, Charles V Standing with His Dog (1533; Museo del Prado, Madrid); Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere, Duchess of Urbino (c. 1537, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence); Captain with a Cupid and a Dog (c. 1550–1552, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie, Kassel); and Clarice Strozzi (1562; Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), in which the lifelike depiction of the small red-and-white Spaniel was singled out by Pietro Aretino in a letter to the artist.

The toy dogs employed in Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) and in his paintings devoted to the theme of Venus with an organist or lute player (c. 1548–1549; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), as well as in his second version of Danaë (1553–1554; Museo del Prado, Madrid), have been interpreted as symbols of female seductiveness. His hunting scenes with Venus and Adonis (1553–1554; Museo del Prado, Madrid) naturally feature realistic portrayals of dogs, and they appear conspicuously in the foreground of the late Flaying of Marsyas (c. 1575; Archiepiscopal Palace, Kremsier). If Titian ever produced a painting with a dog as its principal subject, it has not survived; the near-exception is the engimatic Boy with Dogs, which has been recently interpreted as an allegory of the complementary operations of nature and art: The contrast between the nursing mother’s relationship to her pups and the boy’s to his adult dog expresses the idea that nature brings forth, while art (or culture) trains and nurtures.

Jacopo Bassano seems to have been naturally drawn to animals as his subjects, and he depicted a variety of dogs of different breeds in his historical, religious, and genre subjects over a period of 40 years, beginning with the Adoration of the Magi (c. 1539; Burghley, Stamford, Lincolnshire), which includes a small Spaniel at the Virgin’s feet. He lent a naturalistic note to his compositions with motifs such as the dogs that sniff at the sores on Lazarus’s legs in the foreground of Lazarus and the Rich Man (c. 1554; Cleveland Museum of Art) and lick the blood of the wounded man in The Good Samaritan (fig. 3). Around the middle of the 16th century, Bassano produced a painting of two hunting dogs that survives to mark the beginning of a tradition of commissioned “portraits,” or at least likenesses, of actual dogs that reflects a new interest in and psychological understanding of animals. This unusual work was commissioned in 1548 by Antonio Zentani, a patrician Venetian art collector who apparently wanted a painting of only these two dogs, suggesting to some that these animals were prized hunters from his own kennel and that their depiction was not expected to convey any symbolic or hidden meaning.

Noting Bassano’s dedication to capturing the natural look of dogs, the art historian Roger Rearick emphasized his extraordinary excerption of “two perfectly straightforward canines from their familiar context” and the dedication of a painting to them and them alone. More recently, however, it has been suggested, on the basis of the patron’s spiritual inclinations, that the dogs tethered to a stump, in fact, convey “a severe, almost cheerless message” and represent a complex allegory of the combat between earthly and spiritual life. Irrespective of the symbolic connotations or moralizing intentions of Bassano’s composition, the animals are beautifully realized and remarkable for their truthful representation. The pose of the dog on the left appears to have caught the attention of Tintoretto, who inserted it nearly exactly into his painting Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet for the church of San Marcuola, Venice (c. 1548–49; Museo del Prado, Madrid). By the beginning of the 17th century, Two Hunting Dogs was thought to be a work by Veronese and thereafter it passed as a painting by Titian through a number of celebrated collections, including those of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, William Beckford, and the Duke of Bedford; it was not until the middle of the 20th century that its proper authorship was restored. The naturalistic tenor of Bassano’s art was given further expression in a similar painting of two dogs by themselves that he made shortly thereafter, Two Hunting Dogs (c. 1555; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), and, two decades later, in A Greyhound (c. 1571; private collection, Turin).

Paolo Veronese, who has been called the “greatest dog-lover in Italian art,” included dozens of dogs, from Greyhounds to Spaniels, in his religious scenes, mythological and allegorical works, and portraits. Dogs abound in particular in his large paintings of biblical feasts executed for the refectories of monasteries in Venice and Verona. The Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee (c. 1560; Galleria Sabauda, Turin), painted for the refectory of Saints Nazaro and Celso in Verona, Veronese’s earliest extant supper scene, contains two dogs under the table that have elicited the admiration of observers from Giorgio Vasari (“so beautiful that they appear real and alive”) to John Ruskin (“The essence of dog is there, the entire, magnificent, generic animal type, muscular and living”). In two versions of the Supper at Emmaus (c. 1560; Musée du Louvre, Paris, and Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden), he seems to have taken special pleasure in showing children and dogs playing together. And in the vast Marriage at Cana for the refectory of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, the most ambitious of Veronese’s banquet scenes, a pair of magnificent white hounds immediately draws the spectator’s attention to the center of the composition.

In the interior of the Villa Barbaro at Maser, where Veronese executed a rich and iconographically complex decorative fresco program about 1561, one of the rooms is traditionally called the Stanza del Cane, after a beautifully rendered little dog occupying a ledge high above the visitor. Veronese’s dogs are painted with such loving attention that they must reflect his own feeling toward animals—a feeling that perhaps is mirrored in the motif of Diana nuzzling one of her Greyhounds in the clouds of the Sala di Olimpo. The abundance and variety of dogs in Veronese’s art make it difficult to attribute specific symbolism to them—they are too numerous and appear in too many diverse settings. Veronese is said to have produced formal “portraits” of individual dogs, including his own, but his only extant painting in which dogs vie with the human figure for prominence is Cupid with Two Dogs (c. 1580–83; Alte Pinakothek, Munich). This painting shows a winged Cupid wearing a golden quiver and holding two black-and-white hunting dogs on a chain, a composition that has been interpreted variously as an allegory of the contrariness of love, faithfulness in love, and the restraint of the animal appetite for love.

This essay is adapted from "An Artist's Best Friend: The Dog in Renaissance and Baroque Painting and Sculpture," by Edgar Peters Bowron in Best in Show: The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today (Yale University Press in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Bruce Museum of Art and Science); used with permission. 

Culture: DogPatch
Dorothea Lange
This intrepid photographer documented Depression-era Americans’ pride and spirit

When my father, Rondal Partridge, was 17, he began working for Dorthea Lange, best known for her photograph, Migrant Mother. He worked in Dorothea’s darkroom, packed her camera bags, and drove her up and down the back roads of California. “Slow down, Ron, slow down,” she would insist as they crept along at twenty miles an hour. When they saw something interesting, they stopped: a migrant camp, a piece of broken-down farm equipment, people in a field picking crops. Dorothea took thousands of pictures for the Farm Security Administration, trying to capture the experiences of the dust bowl refugees who had drifted out to California, looking for work.

“Their roots were all torn out,” Dorothea said about the migrants. “I had to get my camera to register the things about those people that were more important than how poor they were—their pride, their strength, their spirit.” Ron and Dorothea walked into camp slowly, her limp from childhood polio immediately setting the migrants at ease. They knew she understood being struck down by adversity. She sometimes asked for a glass of water and drank it very slowly, letting people get used to her presence. Then she set her camera on a tripod, and often began photographing by asking a child to pose for her.

One boy stood in front of her camera, his stubbley head looking like it had been shaved for lice, his face grubby, but a look of tender pride in his eyes as he held up two fat, squirming puppies. Dorothea titled the photograph Migrant People (1938), letting the boy represent the many difficulties and strengths of the migrant workers.

Recently, I asked my father if he saw many dogs when he was on the road with Dorothea. He shook his head. “Often there wasn’t enough food for the kids,” Ron said. “Not many migrants brought a dog.”

Despite their meager resources, a few migrants did bring their dogs. Dorothea included them in her photos, alongside their owners in Fruit Tramp (1935) and Spanish Americans (1943). It’s easy to imagine how important these dogs could be, as the refugees wandered around with their “roots all torn out.” The feel of dogs’ silky ears, the trusting look in their eyes, the smell of grass and dust and sun in their coat: All this must have been reassuring in a world suddenly turned over.

In the late ’30s and early ’40s, Dorothea took several trips out of California. Once again we see her posing a child with his dog in Elm Grove, Okla. (1938). The contrast with the migrant boy and his puppies is striking. The boy wears patched and worn clothing, but he looks clean and well-fed. The Depression had not forced his family onto the road. In Iowa, Small Town Life (1941) as the Depression is easing, we see a lesser-known version of one of her popular photographs. It includes a farmer’s dog who has wandered into the frame. Alert and bright-eyed, it’s easy to imagine he just rode into town in the back of a pickup truck, happy to be with the other farmers he knows from previous trips.

In fields and camps and small towns, Dorothea did exactly what she set out to do: photograph the strength and resilience of the American spirit. And side-by-side with these courageous people are their beloved dogs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What Makes A Great Dog Photo?

The pictures I like best of dogs I know and love, whether they are my own dogs or other people’s, don’t follow a strong pattern. Sometimes the dog looks sweet and other times devilish. I have favorite photos of both rumpled, windblown dogs, and freshly groomed ones. There are action shots and posed ones. All I can say about what the best photos have in common is that the dog looks endearing for some reason.

It’s easy for me to be won over by certain physical characteristics. A cocked head, eyes that seem really engaged with the observer and a tongue that hangs just slightly out of the mouth all look cute to me.

Perhaps, more important is getting a shot that conveys the essence of a dog. This requires incorporating the dog’s personality into the photo. If she loves to fetch more than life itself, there has to be a tennis ball or two in the frame. If there’s another toy that is a constant companion, I’m more likely to love the photo if that toy is in it, too. If she often has one ear up and one ear down or one paw raised, photos that capture these habits are bound to seem more charming than those that don’t. It’s that sense of having captured what makes a dog unique, rather than just beautiful, that makes them favorites.

Tell me about your favorite picture of your dog and let me know what makes it so special to you.

News: Editors
Dugald Stermer, Bark Cover Artist, Dies

We were saddened to hear that one-time Bark contributor Dugald Stermer passed away last Friday at the age of 74. Stermer was the art director of Ramparts magazine (1964-1970), the highly influential counterculture publication that contributed to the wave of New Journalism and inventive, powerful design and illustration. As an illustrator, Stermer became known for his classical drawings, ranging from Jerry Garcia to endangered animals and flora. He was the rare, gifted artist who used his creative talents for the public good. Stermer walked the walk.

Back in 2001, when The Bark used exclusively illustration for cover art, we sought out Stermer, hoping that he might find kinship with a fledgling indie magazine, and give us permission to use a drawing he had stowed away in a drawer. He insisted that he create a new drawing, a portrait of Spenser, his daughter Megan’s dog. A week later he sent us the drawing, an exquisite likeness of a grinning, bandanna-wearing mutt. “Spenser” was written in the artist’s trademark hand lettering below, and surrounding the portrait were references to Spenser’s proposed lineage—Chesapeake Bay Retriever? Poodle? Irish Wolfhound? It was both delightful and delicate in its rendering. We were honored to have Stermer’s work grace our pages.

As I read his obituary in the New York Times, and in more personal blog tributes and comments, one passage rang true. In a 2010 interview, Stermer was asked about his career. “As [San Francisco advertising legend who introduced Stermer to Ramparts] Howard Gossage used to say, ‘The only fit work for an adult is to change the world.’ He said it straight-faced, and while other people might laugh, I always have that in the back of my mind. I don’t walk around with my heart on my sleeve, but I do feel that using our abilities to make things better is a pretty good way of spending a life.”

News: Guest Posts
Vintage Carousel Dogs Up for Auction
Plus, a peek at Tim Racer's latest creations

On September 25, five dog figures will be among the carousel animals up for auction at Guernsey’s auctioneers in New York City. Listed are four Greyhounds “in the style of Charles Looff” and a Spaniel by Herschell Spillman. Here at Bark we’re fans of the carousel animal carvings, especially rare and delightful canine figures.

Back in 2004, we wrote about carousel animal carver Tim Racer, who creates wonderful, whimsical dogs in the old tradition. We checked back in with Tim this week to get his word on the Guernsey’s auction before the gavel drops. We also got a look-see at his latest creations. (View a slideshow of some of the auction dogs and Racer's recent pair.)

If Racer’s name sounds familiar but you’re not a carousel animal aficionado, it may be for his role as co-founder with his wife Donna Reynolds of Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, or BAD RAP. There’s a strong connection between Tim’s artwork and his advocacy efforts.

The Bark: When we saw these carousel dogs up for auction, we thought of you, of course. What do you think of them? 

Tim Racer: It’s always fun to see carousel figures at auction, and for dog types like myself, even more fun to see a dog or two at the block.

The Herschell Spillman spaniels have a sweet character to them, being more primitive than most of the horses, and represent the Country Fair style of carousel carvings—less detail and realism, but beautiful in their simplicity.

Real Looff Greyhounds are very sought-after pieces and fetch about ten times what the auction pieces termed “in the style of Charles Looff” are estimated to be worth. The original pieces are simply stunning due to their artistic detail and sheer size. These dogs stand as tall as carousel horses, where the Herschell Spillman spaniels are about half the size.

The spaniel brings back special memories for me. After painting carousel animals for Hawk’s Eye Studio for several years, a sort of spot opened up in the woodworking niche of the carousel restoration field. So for my first learning project I hooked up with John Hughes for a weekend, an excellent woodworker in San Jose. We got out a flat bar and began taking apart this Herschell Spillman dog. It was truly a basket case. There were tons of screws and nails in it from decades of attempts to keep it in one piece. It was in dozens of pieces once we were through, so I took it home in boxes and glued it all back together. It was a great learning piece and I’ll never forget it—being nervous that I’d damage it worse than it already was.

When we wrote about carousel animals in 2004, it seemed like the vintage pieces were experiencing a resurgence? Are they still popular? Any idea what these will sell for?

Collectors began buying up carousel pieces and even entire carousels in the 1970s. Their heyday peaked in the 1980s when pieces were being sold for tens of thousands of dollars at auction, and sometimes more than $100,000. Bruno the Saint Bernard sold for $174,900—more than any carousel piece in history. I love the fact that there are thousands of carousel horses out there, but a dog fetched the biggest buck! Again proving our love for human’s best friend.

How rare are dog carousel figures?

Of the more than 50,000 carousel figures carved, less than fifty were dogs. This is part of the reason that some of them are worth so much at auction.

Can you tell me a little about your most recent carving?

My most recent carving of a dog named Joshua was commissioned by Jane Berkey, founder of Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) in upstate New York, a Pit Bull education and rescue group that we at BAD RAP in Oakland consider our sister organization. I carved her other dog Petal first, and Joshua was next. Coincidentally, I am receiving him tomorrow from my painter—Pam Hessey of Hawk’s Eye Studio—in a crate that I can’t wait to open. Pam is the woman that I used to paint for—I send all my pieces to her since she’s simply the best and I just don’t have time to paint my own pieces anymore, since carving them usually requires 400 to 600 hours. She can get going on the paint while I start my next piece.

The Joshua piece has special significance to me for many reasons. Petal was Jane’s first Pit Bull-type dog and prompted her to found AFF (likely a Pit Bull/American Bulldog mix) and Joshua was Petal’s best boy buddy (the two have recently deceased).

My very first carving was of my Pit Bull Sally who also prompted Donna and me to found BAD RAP. So Jane is a kindred soul whose dogs are to her what ours are to us. This is also my first piece that is of two dogs that will appear on the same stand, which should really typify the carousel style.

It’s wonderful how your carving and your advocacy complement each other.

There couldn’t be much more of a connection between my art and BAD RAP and I’m fortunate that it has been able to work out that way. I’ve traveled from Maui, to Minnesota, Chicago, New York, and even Bermuda, all with overlapping carving and BAD RAP duties. I couldn’t have guessed that there would be so much synchronicity with the timing of it all.

View more of Tim Racer’s work at timracer.com.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs in Stripes
The paintings of Kate Hoyer

“I paint dogs in stripes because it makes us look at dogs not just as animals we own but as part of our culture. Painting them in stripes echoes how integrated they have become.” So explains artist Kate Hoyer on her website.

Hoyer has been painting in stripes for almost 30 years, but originally she employed this style for abstract work. Later, she decided that she wanted to combine what stripes offer as a design element with realistic subjects.

The result of this combination of richly colored stripes with recognizable forms is a striking body of work, with dogs being her most recent subject matter. My art education is limited, but I know dogs, and what I see in Hoyer’s paintings are dogs whose expressions and emotions feel real with the vibrancy and honesty that’s always sought, but less often achieved, in art.

Culture: DogPatch
Masterwork: Young Man and Woman in an Inn by Frans Hals
Young Man and Woman in an Inn

Frans Hals (1582 – 1666), the celebrated portraitist and genre painter, together with Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer comprise the pantheon of Dutch painting’s “Golden Age.” Hals’ subjects were the bourgeois of Haarlem, a hub of a new 17th-century Dutch economy. His colorful characters were painted with a vibrant palette and bold brushwork unseen in realist painting. Unlike the somber dignity found in Rembrandt or the contemplative interiors of Vermeer, Hals paintings radiate an exuberance in style and composition. He is at his best when he combines portraiture with genre painting, as he does in Young Man and Woman in an Inn (1623). Popularly known since the eighteenth century as Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart, it is one of Hals most important works, an examination of “everyday life” or the depiction of modern manners and mores. The painting shows a brief encounter in a tavern between a young man and woman. Yonker is an English rendering of Jonker or Jonkheer, which means “Young Gentleman.” The young man depicted here was considered to resemble Pieter Ramp, the ensign in the background of another Hals painting Banquet of the Officers of the Saint Hadrian Civic Guard Company (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem) of about 1627. The Yonker here raises his glass in celebration as the woman, arm around his shoulder vies for his attention. Her rival is a dog (resembling a Griffon), the canine’s muzzle cupped in the hand of the Yonker, perhaps enjoying a morsel of food. The immediacy of the scene and the dazzling brushwork are remarkable. The facial expressions exude a raucous gaiety verging on caricature, while Hals’ painterly skill is in full force with his virtuoso handling of flesh, fabric and lace. The painting recalls a contemporary Dutch adage: “the nuzzle of dogs, the affection of prostitutes, and the hospitality of innkeepers: None of it comes without cost.” As demonstrated in this masterwork, Hals was not shy about portraying his subjects foolish behavior or showing the crass side of the new gentry class. Few paintings capture the personality of its subjects with such vitality and unvarnished joy—it’s as if Hals joins the Yonker and his lady friend in winking at us from the canvas.