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Dog artist Stephen Huneck dead at 60

huneckart

 
Stephen Huneck, whose paintings, sculptures and woodcut prints of dogs celebrated his deep love for animals, took his own life last week in New Hampshire.

Huneck, of St. Johnsbury, committed suicide Thursday in Littleton, N.H. His wife said he was despondent after being forced to lay off employees at his Dog Mountain studio and Dog Mountain chapel in Vermont.

“Like many Americans, we had been adversely affected by the economic downturn,” Gwen Huneck wrote in a letter Friday announcing his death. “Stephen feared losing Dog Mountain and our home. Then on Tuesday we had to lay off most of our employees. This hurt Stephen deeply. He cared about them and felt responsible for their welfare.”

Two days later, he shot himself in the head while sitting in a parked car outside the office of his psychiatrist, the Burlington Free Press reported.

dogchapelA native of Sudbury, Mass., Huneck started out whittling wooden sculptures and later dog-themed furniture. In 2000, he built the Dog Chapel – a miniature version of the 19th-century churches that dot Vermont’s landscape — from wood harvested from his 175-acre Dog Mountain property.

The chapel, a popular tourist stop, has vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows with images of dogs pieced into them, and handcrafted pews, also built by Huneck. A sign outside reads: “Welcome all creeds, all breeds. No dogmas allowed.”

Dog lovers would make the trip to Vermont just to see the chapel, many writing notes to their deceased pets and attaching them to the walls. Huneck never took them down.

Huneck advocated for dog-friendly lodging, water dishes  at parks and highway rest stops, and dog-friendly dining.

stephen-studio-01“Really, my agenda is to make Vermont the France of America, as far as the way we relate to our dogs,” Huneck told The Burlington Free Press in 2006. “I think it would be wonderful if people could bring their dogs into restaurants. … Every time I eat at a restaurant I feel really guilty because I know those scraps would make a friend of mine really happy.”

Huneck’s seven books — including “Sally Goes to the Beach,” “Sally Goes to the Farm” and “Sally Gets a Job”– featured woodcut prints of his  beloved Labrador retrievers, accompanied by quirky captions.

“He was one of the most creative and active members of the Vermont crafts community,” said Jennifer Boyer, co-owner of  Artisans Hand, a craft gallery in Montpelier. “I appreciate how much energy he put into his works, which were whimsical and sardonically funny. He really had a unique sense of humor.”

In 1994, Huneck fell down a flight of stairs and was in a coma for two months.  Although he recovered fully, he had to relearn everything from how to walk to how to sign his name, according to his Dog Mountain website.

After waking up from the coma, Huneck immediately began working on a series of woodcut prints he had envisioned before the accident, based on his dog Sally. The first in the series was called “Life Is A Ball.”

After this near death experience, Stephen began work on the Dog Chapel, a place, as he described it, “where people can go and celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs.”

(Photos from dogmt.com)

Comments

Comment from Isabella Fiske McFarlin
Time April 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Steven H. lived at Quarry Hill Creative Center in Rochester, VT for several years before he met Gwen and became an antiques dealer. He was already working on his art and he studied with my mother, Barbara Hall Fiske. My brother, William Fiske, was a close compatriot of Steve’s. William died in 2008. I have wondered if Steve was depressed over the death of W. when he died.

Comment from Ruby b
Time August 20, 2013 at 3:05 am

Gwen Huneck was found dead in her home in early June, 2013. I do not know what happened to their three dogs. The website for dog mountain is no longer functional.

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20130604/NEWS02/306040008/Head-of-Dog-Mountain-art-gallery-in-St-Johnsbury-dies?nclick_check=1

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