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Tag: artists

Artist’s goal: Painting all 51 Vick dogs

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I’m not sure what I love more about this artist — her paintings, her name, her theme or her determination.

Levity Tomkinson is a Kentucky artist who has tackled a serious project — painting all 51 of the dogs seized from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation in 2007.

She’s more than one-fifth of the way there.

levityFinding herself struck by the resiliency of those Vick dogs who were rescued and rehabilitated, Tomkinson got the idea in 2012 and started what she calls The Re51lient Project.

Tomkinson had started painting dogs — beginning with her own, a pit bull mix named Rinlee – in 2010, when, after graduating college, she found herself without any good job leads.

After reading an article about Vick dogs who had been rehabilitated and adopted, the project began.

“I thought of the idea during a time in my life that was really unpleasant, where I was trying to find meaning and happiness and purpose again, and these dogs were absolutely a part of my healing process. They inspired me to be positive, to smile and look at the world and appreciate all different kinds of beauty …. I am forever indebted and grateful to these dogs for changing my life.”

Like many dog lovers, Tomkinson was moved how many of the dogs taken from the NFL quarterback’s Bad News Kennels managed to overcome the horrors inflicted on them there.

As she explains it on her blog, “I cannot begin to fathom the daily lives of the 51 dogs who were rescued, and those before who weren’t. I paint for the 51 …

“I paint for the dogs … that didn’t win in a fight they never wanted anyway, dying from injuries with punctured skin and a mauled lip and face that became raw meat. I paint for the dogs … with that were forced into a rape stall to unwillingly bring more dogs into the world of dog fighting. I paint for any dog who has been, is, or will be a part of this heinous world. The resiliency of the 51 is my courage, my push, my determination, and my love for this project.”

rayTomkinson, according to the Huffington Post, hopes to turn the project into a book, with portraits of all 51 dogs — those who were adopted and those who spent the rest of their lives in sanctuaries.

“Every single dog has importance and a story to tell, something to teach us, and either their passing or not being adopted doesn’t lessen their message or them,” she said.

“If Re51lient can empower one person to choose positivity over negativity, triumph over fear, allow them to let go of past hurt or add one more pit bull lover to this world, then my heart is happy. ”

(Photos: Lucas, a former Vick dog who died last year at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary; Tomkinson, from her Facebook page; and Ray, a Vick dog adopted this year)

Dog Mountain lives on

Stephen Huneck is gone — he took his own life earlier this year – but his love for dogs remains firmly and artfully stamped on a mountainside in Vermont.

His studio, in a giant red barn, is silent. Stacks of wood sit uncarved and untouched. But the gallery he built, the dog park he created and, perhaps his greatest inspiration, the Dog Chapel, remain open on Dog Mountain – an ongoing testament of one man’s love for dogs, and to what dogs add to our lives.

His widow wants to keep it that way, and with the renewed demand for his work after his death, a morbid fact of life when it comes to art, it’s looking like Dog Mountain, once facing foreclosure, will, happily, survive.

In what was one of the saddest stories in the art world, and the dog world, this year, Huneck, whose joyful odes to dogs — carved, sculpted and stamped on woodblock prints — shot himself amid a depression triggered by a recession.

The sagging economy had, starting in 2008, slowed sales of his art, forced him to close down his multiple studios and eventually — in what was hardest for him – lay off almost all of his 15 employees.

“Our employees were sort of like family,” his widow, Gwen, explained to me when Ace and I visited this past weekend. “Stephen blamed himself.”

With the economic downturn, she said, “People were unsure of the future, and when people are unsure of the future, they don’t buy art.”

Two days later after letting his employees go, Huneck, who was being treated for depression, shot himself in his car, parked outside his psychiatrist’s office in Littleton, New Hampshire. He was 60.

In a press release after his death, Gwen wrote, “Stephen feared losing Dog Mountain and our home. On Tuesday, he had to lay off most of our employees. This hurt Stephen deeply. He cared about them and felt responsible for their welfare.”

Despite its founder’s demise, Dog Mountain, somehow, remains a joyous place. Dogs romp and splash about in the lake at the well-manicured dog park; hikers trek its trails; customers delight in Huneck’s whimsical woodcut prints, hung about the gallery; his sculptures rise from the landscape; and a steady stream of dogs and humans flow in and out of Dog Chapel, Hunecks hand-built replica of 19th Century New England church — designed, like almost all else he did, despite some major personal obstacles, to honor dog.

In 1994, Huneck fell down a flight of stairs and was in a coma for two months. When he came out of it, he had Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome, and doctors were not optimistic.

Huneck had to relearn how to walk, how to sign his name. But he went back to work, finishing a series of woodcut prints based on his dog Sally. The first woodcut he carved was “Life Is A Ball” celebrating his new found life.

His near-death experience also inspired him to build the Dog Chapel – a place where people can celebrate the spiritual bond they have with their dogs, past and present.

He started it in 1997, finished it in 2000, and then opened it to the public. Admission was, and is, free. Leashes were not, and are not, required.

Huneck called the chapel “the largest artwork of my life and my most personal.” A sign outside the chapel states: “All Creeds, All Breeds, No Dogmas Allowed.”

A miniature version of a 19th century New England village church, the chapel has four hand-carved pews, with carvings of dogs at the end of each, stained glass windows that feature winged dogs (a recurring image in his work). The interior walls are covered with post-it notes, left by visitors. Originally there was one “Remembrance Wall,” where pet owners could memorialize their pets. Now all the walls are covered with them. People who couldn’t make the trip could email their remembrances and Huneck would post them for them.

After his recovery, Huneck continued producing dog-inspired works of art, and, by 2000, Dog Mountain was a multi-million dollar business. He published a series of children’s books, and opened galleries across the country.

All that came after a difficult childhood. Huneck, who was dyslexic, grew up in the Boston area in what he described as a turbulent home. He left home at 17 “with 33 cents in his pocket,” his wife said. After attending Massacusetts College of Art in Boston, where he met Gwen, Huneck became an antiques dealer. Through repairing furniture, he taught himself how to carve. In 1984, one of his original carvings caught the eye of a New York dealer, and he was soon making art full time, according to his obituary in the New York Times.

Gwen and Stephen settled in Vermont, and bought a 200-year-old house. Huneck built a studio alongside the house and worked there until 1995 when they bought a nearby farm, converted its dairy barn into his new studio, and later built the chapel and gallery.

When the economy turned sour, he faced losing all he had built up.

“We’d used our life savings to keep the business going, but we ran out of money,” Gwen said.

Even in his depressed state, Huneck knew there is higher demand for a dead artist’s work — and some say, to the extent there was any, that was the logic behind his act, that he killed himself to save Dog Mountain.

Gwen — though she had doubts about whether it would be possible — was intent on saving Dog Mountain after his death. She kept the gallery and chapel open, and business improved.

“There was a real outpouring from people who realized how much Stephen and Dog Mountain meant to them,” she said.

Today, Dog Mountain has eight employees — most of them the ones who had been laid off. Business is brisk, both on the mountain and on the Huneck’s website, www.dogmt.com.

At the gallery, dogs are welcome, and Gwen encourages those coming in to take their dogs off their leashes.

Ace accepted the invitation, greeted Gwen’s three dogs — two Labrador retrievers, Daisy and Salvador Doggie, and a golden retriever named Molly — then settled down on the floor amid a collection of Huneck’s work.

Many have described that work as whimsical — carved Dachshund lamps, prints of dogs with wings, dalmatian benches and the like — but delightful as each individual piece is, Stephen Huneck’s body of work, and his life, went far deeper than whimsy, striking a chord with many. Ten months after his death, it still resonates.

“I’ve learned so much more about love from my dogs than I ever did from my parents or the church,”  Huneck told The Chicago Tribune in 1997. “They’re really great teachers. They love you with their whole heart.”

Maybe writer Edie Clark said it best in the piece she wrote for Yankee magazine after Huneck’s death:

“Stephen was to dogs what dogs are to us.”

(To see more of “Travels with Ace,” click here.)

Giving dogs a brake in Madrid

Madrid — the one in New Mexico, pronounced MAD-rid — wants you to slow down.

It’s not just to make you less likely to run over a valued tourist; and it’s not just to make you, if you are a tourist, more likely to stop at one of the galleries in the funky artists’ colony and make a purchase.

No, the advice — to many, at least — is aimed at protecting dogs. Because, as the sign says, Madrid loves its dogs.

In addition to the official 25 mph speed limit signs posted throughout town, I spotted a couple of these — hand-painted pleas (it is an artists’ community, after all) reminding motorists to be on the lookout for dogs.

Madrid, which turned into a ghost town when the mines closed in the 1950s, has been enjoying a revival since the early 1970s, when artists began moving here and opening galleries and shops. It’s home to what’s purported to be the longest bar in New Mexico, at the Mine Shaft Tavern, and dozens of galleries featuring paintings, photography, sculpture, crafts, pottery, textiles and more. A haven for motorcyclists, it also served as the setting for the movie “Road Hogs.”

It’s also home to some road dogs — pooches who, though owned and loved, are of the free-range variety. I saw a couple of them walking alone along the road, and generally doing a better job of avoiding traffic than the tourists did.

I’m proud to report that I made it through Madrid — at 25 mph — without running over either.

Seven things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe

There’s one thing you can’t avoid in Santa Fe, and that’s dogs.

They are everywhere — tall dogs, short dogs, big dogs, small dogs, black, white, brown, red, yellow and brindle dogs.

There are smelly hippy, just-passin’-thru dogs (and I’m not saying from where the odor is emanating – human, or canine, or perhaps the sweatstained, refrigerator-sized backpack).

There are gigantic purebred poodles, as regal-looking as their owners.

And there are a whole lot of Labs, shepherds, terriers, hounds and who-knows-whats in between.

Santa Fe calls itself “the city different,” for numerous reasons, but perhaps nowhere is its diversity more noticeable than in its dogs.

Some I’ve seen, like Shadow (below), who all but blends in with the dirt paths of the dog park, look like they might even have a little coyote in the mix.

You see dogs on street corners. You see them in Santa Fe Plaza, the town’s main gathering place. You see them in outdoor restaurants, poking their heads out of passing cars and, by the dozens, at Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park — an expansive swath of high desert, dotted with cholla and juniper (provided by nature), and dog bowls, plastic chairs and poop bags (provided by its users).

Despite its lack of frills, Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park — it’s named after a one-time mayor –  has arroyos and hills, miles of paths, and commanding views of the town. (By virtue of its size alone, it appears destined to make our top 10 dog park list.) Yes, dogs are one thing you can’t avoid in Santa Fe.

Dogs and art.

Art, too, is everywhere — street corner stands,murals, ritzy galleries, rustic studios. The only thing there may be more of than dogs in Santa Fe is artists, many of whom draw their inspiration from the scenic beauty around them.

So, actually there are three things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe — dogs, art and nature’s beauty. It — along with a climate sent from heaven — make it a highly liveable, and visitable, city. Beauty can be found in nearly every direction you look, from the Jemez Mountains to the west to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, rising high to the southeast.

Speaking of rising high, there are actually four things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe — dogs, art, nature’s beauty and high prices. There’s no escaping high prices. Sooner or later, they will get you — or perhaps even stress you out.

If so, you can always visit a spa, because actually there are five things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe — dogs, art, nature’s beauty, high prices and spas. In town, on the edges of town, up in the mountains, there is an abundance of places to get wrapped, scrubbed, rubbed, boiled and oiled. I’m not sure who goes to all the spas, probably the same people that buy all the art and eat the high priced restaurant meals — namely tourists.

Which — in addition to dogs, art, nature’s beauty, high prices, and spas – are another thing you can’t avoid in Santa Fe.

So that makes six things you can’t avoid in Santa Fe, if you count the tourists, who stay in hotels that, like all other structures in town, are made of adobe, which is the seventh thing you can’t avoid in Santa Fe — adobe. I’ve yet to see a house exterior of wood, brick or — heaven forbid — vinyl siding.

On top of those seven things, there are plenty of other things that can be found in abundance in Santa Fe– sunsets, rainbows, good food, opera, legends, history, crafts, and, my personal favorite, clouds.

Here’s my theory on the clouds, and why cooling afternoon showers are fairly common here. Clouds come in from the mountains, usually –  like tourists — in a group. The clouds look down and like what they see — harmony, art, spirituality, pleasing terrain, disposable income, seekers, healers and art appreciators. And, being an art form themselves, the clouds decide to stay around a while — so that they may both appreciate and be appreciated.

In my five days here, I’ve noticed that, unlike clouds in most places, neither the big fluffy ones or the wispy flat ones — to use the scientific terms — seem to be moving, and, if they are, it’s imperceptibly slow. Instead, they seem to be lingering, hanging out, enjoying the view. Meantime, new clouds come in, and they decide to linger, too. And so on and so on, until there are so many clouds, elbowing each other for space in the formerly big blue sky, that they become entangled, much like the traffic downtown.

As a result of all that brushing up against each other, and moving into each others’ space, meteorological things begin to take place, and — not to get too technical – rain and wind result.

Sometimes, after that, you get rainbows. Sometimes, you don’t. That’s life, in Santa Fe.

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” the continuing story of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America, click here.)

Jawetz a finalist in Baker Artist Awards

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Baltimore artist Gil Jawetz — painter of dogs and more — is a finalist in this year’s Baker Artist Awards.

Jawetz, who is also designer of the ohmidog! website, has put together several exhibits of dog-related art, including ”Human(e) Beings” a collection of oil paintings (and book) exploring the relationships between people and their pets.

The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund established the Baker Artist Awards to recognize Baltimore’s artists and engage the public in supporting their work.

Jawetz, after years of working in film and video, took up oil painting in 2004 with a class at New York City’s Art Students League. He moved to Baltimore the next year, working as a freelancer to devote more time to painting. His focus is on Impressionism and other styles of representational, figurative art that take the living form as a starting point for exploring colors, moods and emotions.

You can see more of his work, and vote for him, at Bakerartistawards.org.

You can also learn more about Jawetz and his art at his website, Buskerdog.com.

(Art: “Late Night, Lobby” by Gil Jawetz, 2008)

Bolted down dog art disappears in Indiana

Two of the 41 decorated dog sculptures that have been placed in and around Purdue University as part of a community art project were stolen before the exhibit officially started, and a third was almost stolen early Sunday.

A student was arrested, but Purdue University police don’t believe he was responsible for the earlier two thefts, the Journal and Courier reported. Police said Adam Sachs, 20, a sophomore engineering major, was carrying a toolbox when an officer saw him at 3:30 a.m. attempting to steal one of the sculptures.

The decorated, life-sized dog statues, bolted to 600-pound concrete bases, have been placed throughout  Lafayette, West Lafayette and on the Purdue campus as part of a community art project and fundraiser sponsored by the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine and the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette.

The “Dog Days of Summer” exhibit officially opened Saturday. Artists from Indiana and other areas decorated the fiberglass dog forms, and the works will be auctioned when the exhibit ends in October.

The two stolen statues were entitled, ”Give a Dog a Bone,” located outside the Veterinary school’s Lynn Hall and “Alfie the Alpha Dog,” which was in front of the West Lafayette Public Library. Whoever took the initial two statues loosened all but one bolt, breaking a leg off on “Give a Dog a Bone.”

Kevie Doerr, director of alumni relations and public affairs with the School of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the Dog Days of Summer committee, said they will offer a reward of up to $250 for safe return of the artwork.

(Photo: One of the dog sculptures is bolted down, prior to exhibit opening; courtesy Dog Days of Summer Committee)

The art of the elephant

Don’t worry. We’re not becoming ohmielephant!, but after your response to Bella the dog and Tarra the elephant, we thought we’d share another amazing elephant story one with you.

This elephant, according to the information posted on YouTube with the video, was rescued from abusive treatment in Burma, and now makes a living as an artist in Thailand.

Her mahout talks to her throughout the process and rewards her with sugar cane and banana as she uses her trunk to paint.

The video was posted on YouTube by Exotic World Gifts, which supports, “Starving Elephant Artisans” by selling their paintings so they can continue to have a new life in Thailand.

“Some Thai elephant experts believe that the survival of the Asian elephant species will most likely depend on the good treatment of the elephants in well managed privately owned elephant camps,” the website says. “All of us would prefer that all of the elephants be free to be in the wild. For many reasons, that is not possible at this time.”

To see more elephant art, and learn more about the program, visit exoticworldgifts.com