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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“Joy Sessions” by Sarah Beth Photography
The service dog’s name was “Joy” and photographing her had a profound affect on Sarah Ernhart. The photo session was a gift from a friend of Joy’s guardian, who was in hospice. Joy was among the most important individuals in the woman’s life, and the pictures meant so much to her that it inspired Sarah to start something new with her business, Sarah Beth Photography.
The dog’s name gave her the idea to name the new service “Joy Sessions,” which she has trademarked. Joy Sessions are photography sessions offered at a reduced price for people whose pet is terminally ill. She often schedules Joy Sessions for the same day or the next day, as soon as they’re needed. Images from her Joy Sessions are emotionally compelling because of a couple of factors. Ernhart’s photographic skills, including making her subjects comfortable, a strong eye for composition and design as well as an understanding of the technical elements such as lighting and depth of field, combine with her focus on the relationship between people and dogs to create memorable photographs with extra special meaning. It’s her contribution to helping people go through the trauma of saying good-bye to a pet.
Sarah contributes to her local pet community in other ways. She donates 10 percent of her pet session fees to local non-profit groups that help animals such as shelters, rescues, or advocates for animals. She offers discounts of up to 50 percent for people who have adopted their dogs from rescue and is a member of HeARTs Speak, whose stated mission is to unite the individual efforts of animal artists and animal rescues into collective action for social change.
Sarah’s photographs are lovely, and what she says about them shows her love for dogs as well as her images do. My favorite comment? “Ohdinn’s studio session was a gift from his mom’s best friend. He’s getting up there, and they wanted to bring him in while he still had some pep. If this silly, happy old man doesn’t make you smile, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.”
News: Guest Posts
New exhibition focuses on dogs’ role
It’s hard to imagine the world of Norman Rockwell (1894–1978) without the sweet, loyal presence of dogs. Sleeping peacefully, waiting patiently or eagerly joining in children’s adventures, dogs were an abiding presence in his Saturday Evening Post cover paintings, story illustrations, advertisements and family Christmas cards throughout his career. They were also constant companions in Rockwell’s life—from his own dogs to neighbors’ pups, borrowed as models.
The current installation, “It’s a Dog’s Life: Norman Rockwell Paints Man’s Best Friend” at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., explores the artist’s furry muses through original artworks, photographs and archival materials that offer insights into his artistic goals and working methods.
“His fondness for dogs comes through when you look through photos of him in his home and around his studio,” says Joyce K. Schiller, PhD, curator for the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies. “One of my favorite ones is Rockwell painting at his easel with his last dog, Pitter, asleep on the floor next to him.” This image is on display in “It’s a Dog’s Life,” which runs through Nov. 11, 2011.
Rockwell didn’t say much about his habit of including dogs in his work publicly or in his correspondence, Schiller explains. But he did include a little on the subject in an advanced illustration course written in the 1940s and included in Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make A Picture (Watson-Guptill Publishers; Famous Artists School, 1979).
“Animals are often the center of interest in story telling pictures and at other times they can be included naturally in a picture. In such cases, they are very appealing and helpful,” he writes. But, he also adds, “I do not like to see an appealing animal put into a picture just to save the job.”
News: Guest Posts
They photograph fantastically, just ask Nancy LeVine
One of my dogs is getting on in years. She’s 13-plus, a little stiff in the hind end, her black fur is flecked with more white than in the past and her irises are cloudy. She’s getting The Look—a world-wise sweetness that melts my heart on a regular basis.
Nancy LeVine knows all about The Look. She’s photographed senior dogs around the country, capturing their nobility, grace and fragility. We featured LeVine’s work in Bark (March/April 2009), and now you can view Lens Culture's online gallery of some of these portraits. It’s absolutely worth a visit. (Oh, and she does commissions!)
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Artist Nancy Schutt takes it with “Out of Reach”
Over the years, Mutt Lynch Winery has created wines with names such as “Unleashed Chardonnay” and “Merlot Over and Play Dead.” They consistently combine a love of dogs with a love of wines, and the results are often as charming as they are delicious.
They just announced the winner of their third annual wine label contest, which is “Out of Reach” by artist Nancy Schutt. There were many wonderful entries in this contest, which was co-sponsored by Mutt Lynch Winery and Dog Art Today. The theme of the contest was “Naughty.” The wine “Out of Reach” will be available in August 2011, and 10 percent of the profits from its sale will be donated to an animal shelter.
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