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Tag: conservation

Is this why “The Blue Boy” is blue?

The_Blue_Boy“The Blue Boy,” artist Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous work, featured a dog at one point in its evolution, and come September you’ll have a chance to see its ghostly image in person.

At some point in its creation, “The Blue Boy” lost his dog. Gainsborough painted over the fluffy white dog in the painting’s lower right hand corner, covering it with a pile of rocks.

Not until 1994, when an X-ray revealed the dog sitting by his master’s feet, did that become known to the world.

The painting’s ongoing restoration at The Huntington Library in California is now becoming an exhibit in itself, featuring a look at the painting’s history, mysteries, and artistic virtues, the revelations X-rays have provided over the years and explanations of the techniques being used to restore the work.

Project Blue Boy will open Sept. 22 at the Huntington, where the original painting has resided since 1921.

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Of course, the boy’s blueness had nothing to do with any feelings of melancholy; instead the painting depicts a young man who appears confident, proud of his station in life and maybe a little bit defiant, as if prepared to defend himself against any teasing about his frilly blue outfit and plumed hat.

The painting isn’t as vibrant as it once once, and that’s why the museum has undertaken the restoration project.

“Earlier conservation treatments have involved adding new layers of varnish as temporary solutions to keep it on view as much as possible,” said senior paintings conservator and “Project Blue Boy” co-curator Christina O’Connell.

“The original colors now appear hazy and dull and many of the details are obscured,” she added.

In addition to contributing to restoration research, the project will likely uncover new information of interest to art historians. O’Connell is using a Haag-Streit surgical microscope to closely examine the painting. To gather material information, she is employing imaging techniques including digital x-radiography, infrared reflectography, ultraviolet fluorescence, and x-ray fluorescence.

The restoration project has also uncovered an An L-shaped tear more than 11-inches long, which is believed to have dated back to the 19th century when the painting was in the collection of the Duke of Westminster.

The painting was sold in 1921 to railroad tycoon Henry Edwards Huntington, leading to an outcry among the English, who were horrified that “The Blue Boy” should leave his homeland. The sales price is believed to have been about $700,000, or about $9.3 million today, which made it the second most expensive painting in the world, behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child.

In 1939, an X-ray was taken of the painting that revealed the canvas had once been an incomplete painting of an older man. The dog didn’t appear in that X-Ray.

Many believe the painting pictured ironmonger Jonathan Buttall, the first owner of the painting, but the true identity of the model remains a mystery.

No one knows why Gainsborough decided to rid the painting of the dog, either.

O’Connell will continue her examination and analysis of “The Blue Boy,” and her efforts to restore it.

Visitors to the Huntington will be able to observe her at work in the Thornton Portrait Gallery on Thursdays, Fridays and select Sundays from Sept. 22 through January 2019, PasadenaNow.com reported.

The painting will get a final treatment and reframing after that and will be rehung in its former location in the Huntington’s portrait gallery in early 2020.

(Photos: At top, the original painting (ca. 1770), lower, the painting under digital x-radiography; courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens)

Are we thirsty in the desert? Oh Ace is

Ace — though he seems to appreciate the slightly wobbly stability our temporary trailer home in Cave Creek, Arizona, is providing — woke up Saturday morning raring to go.

Where, I do not know.

Maybe, with all the driving of the last six months, he now feels the need to ride. Maybe it was the crisp morning temperatures; or perhaps he’d gotten worked up by all the coyote howling the night before. They sounded as if they were having a feast, or a fight, or possibly an orgy.

Ace galloped out of the trailer, ran up to the car and took a seat in the dirt, his wagging tail kicking up dust and a look on his face that said, to me, “What are we waiting for?”

So, on the spur of the moment, I decided we’d revisit Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area — 2,154 acres of desert that over the years has been home to cowboys, Indians and mining operations. Now it’s part of the Maricopa County park system — and it’s just a few miles of paved and dirt roads from where we’re staying.

I’d driven out there last weekend, hearing it was a good place to romp with dogs, but didn’t really explore. On Saturday, I tossed Ace’s leash, water bowl and jug in the car, and off we went — planning not a long hike, just a 30 minute tour to better check things out.

The first thing we encountered was not a gila monster or a rattlesnake, but an extremely nice sheriff’s deputy. He was explaining the lay of the land to me and suggesting some trails when three guys on horses rode up. Ace, who had been around horses only a little — like back when we were passing through Maine — was a perfect gentlemen, and sat at my side. His eyes got big, as they seem to do when he’s amazed, but his hackles stayed down.

The weekend cowboys rode off, and the deputy and I talked some more. I asked if there were any areas where dogs weren’t allowed. He said they were fine everywhere — that rules call for them to stay leashed, but that the rules were pretty flexible. Well behaved dogs, he implied, could romp a bit off leash.

So, 50 yards down the path we chose, off it came.

Ace walked tentatively, avoiding the rocks as he veered from one side of the dusty path to the other, carefully sniffing the various types of cacti as I tried to remember their names, all of which I’d made a point of learning when I moved to Tucson 35 years ago — saguaro, cholla, prickly pear, barrel, agave … my memory of the rest had gone dry.

So had Ace. Not planning a long hike, I hadn’t brought any water — for me or him.

I wasn’t particularly thirsty. We’d only been walking 30 minutes or so, and at a very slow pace, with lots of pauses for sniffing. But Ace, who seems to have a better understanding of the need to hydrate than I, was clearly wishing for water.

He got his wish.

I didn’t know there even was a Cave Creek — as in an actual creek — much less that we were headed towards it, or that it, unlike most alleged bodies of water in these parts, would actually, at this particular time anyway, have water running through it.

Ace, after approaching cautiously, made the most of it. First he pawed it, then he took a tiny taste, then he plunged his head in, taking a long drink, running in circles, then drinking some more.

It wasn’t exactly a raging river, but here in the desert, you take what you can get. We hiked a little deeper down the trail, then turned around. By the time we reached the creek, he was ready to celebrate it once again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dogs have a way of living fully in the moment — no matter how piddly a moment it is — and we could learn from that.

Our 30-minute hike took two hours. We encountered five other dogs along the way, people on horses and people on mountain bikes, one of whom, as he rode, was singing at the top of his lungs. Possibly that guy was living in the moment, or just a nut.

We had one sour moment, when a lone female hiker snuck up behind me and decided I needed a scolding for not having Ace on a leash.

I hooked him up and let her pass, holding him to my side and assuring her that he was friendly. “That’s what everybody whose dog has ever bitten anybody says,” she said. She kept mumbling as she went by and, once at the trailhead, reported me to the sheriff’s deputy, who — though he didn’t consider it a hanging offense — reminded me of the official rules.

Spur Cross is the newest addition to Maricopa County’s Regional Parks System. Citizens of Cave Creek voted to pay more taxes to help the county and the state to buy the land. The conservation area’s trails pass through through archeological sites of the ancient Hohokam, who once lived along the creek, and one can see relics as well of its mining heritage and its days as a dude ranch.

None of that mattered to Ace. But he sure liked the water.

Guard dogs protect sheep, save cheetah

Guard dogs that protect sheep and goats on African farms from attacks by cheetahs and leopards are also helping out the cheetahs and leopards.

With their livestock safe from attack, farmers no longer feel the need to hunt or poison cheetahs and leopards, according to a BBC report.

Anatolian Kangal dogs are used in the program, started in Namibia and recently launched in Kenya.

“We have had amazing results,” Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund said.  “Since the dogs were imported, the cheetah population had increased by a third.” 

Anatolian Kangal dogs are extremely loyal and are ready to fight to the death. The puppies are given to farmers when they are just eight weeks old and grow up with the flocks of goats and sheep they are to guard in order to bond with them.

If a predator approaches, the dogs bark loudly and the flock gathers round them. For most predators, the barking alone is enough to keep them from approaching.

The Conservation Trust began importing the Kangal from Turkey in 1994 and since then has provided around 300 dogs to farmers.