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.
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.
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.”
“Stephen was to dogs what dogs are to us.”
(To see more of “Travels with Ace,” click here.)
Posted by jwoestendiek October 12th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, animals, art, artists, artwork, demand, dog, dog art, dog chapel, dog mountain, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, economy, gwen huneck, new england, pets, prints, recession, road trip, st. johnsbury, stephen huneck, suicide, travels with ace, vermont, wood block, woodcuts
Downtown St. Louis has joined the growing list of cities and neighborhoods that are catching on to the fact that dogs can improve a community’s health — both socially and economically.
The city held a ribbon-cutting for its new Lucas Park Dog Park Saturday – a $125,000 project that created a three-quarter-block long area where dogs can run unfettered.
It was a small and little-noted event, but it’s another sign of the growing awareness — reflected recently in Frederick, Maryland; Santa Cruz, California; and Hollywood, Florida – that being more dog friendly can increase an area’s appeal to humans, both as a place to live and a place to visit.
And that, city, business and neighborhood leaders are realizing, can help a community trying to pull itself out of recession-related doldrums.
For downtowners in St. Louis, “the renaissance of their neighborhood arrived on four legs,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
On top of being good for business, becoming more dog friendly — and creating areas where dogs and their owners can congregate — can also help lead to a stronger sense of community.
“We may not know all of our neighbors,” said Todd Wise, a radio producer who moved downtown with his wife and Delilah, a basset hound, 18 months ago. “But we know the owners by their dogs.”
“The idea is get people out of their apartments, said downtown-dwelling law student Sarah Hunt, owner of Roxie, an 8-month-old beagle-pug mix. “…When you get people out of their apartments, things happen.”
(Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch /Elle Gardner)
Posted by jwoestendiek April 5th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, boost, business, california, community, dog friendly, dog park, dogs, downtown, economic, economy, florida, frederick, health, hollywood, lucas park, maryland, neighborhoods, news, ohmidog!, pets, recession, santa cruz, st. louis
A new bill in the U.S. House that would allow pet owners to deduct up to $3,500 for “qualified pet-care expenses,” including vet bills, is drawing little attention and lots of laughs.
Given it’s considered a bit of an underdog, we’re all for it.
Called the HAPPY (Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years) Act, the bill is designed to make it more affordable for people to provide the care their pets need, and less likely that pet owners pinched by the recession will abandon their pets.
Congressman Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., introduced House Resolution 3501, on July 31. It seeks to amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow a deduction for pet care expenses, and would allow an individual to deduct a maximum of $3,500 for “qualified pet care expenses” for any “qualified pet.”
The congressman, who is not a pet owner, says he sponsored the bill to help families care for their pets during tough economic times.
“Families have raised concerns about how the recession has impacted them and their pets, which should come as no surprise since more than sixty percent of United States households own a pet,” Congressman McCotter wrote in an email to Paw Nation.
“Unfortunately, according to the Humane Society, the current recession has led to a noticeable increase in the number of animals at shelters and a decrease in the number of animals being adopted. We must help prevent children and families from losing their beloved pets or seeing animals destroyed due to an economic recession.”
Under the proposal, one could not deduct the cost of buying or adopting a pet.
McCotter has been taking some heat from bloggers and colleagues for the proposal, but the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council supports the bill, and so do we.
If you see it as something more than a joke, or perhaps even feel strongly about it, you can sign a petition here.
Posted by jwoestendiek August 20th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abandon, bill, bills, cats, deduct, deduction, dogs, economy, expenses, income taxes, internal revenue, law, pet, pet care, pets, proposal, recession, shelters, thaddeus mccotter, veterinary
A dog training website says it plans to award $500 each to 500 dog rescue organizations to help them cope during the recession.
Trainpetdog.com will distribute a total of $25,000 to rescues, with donations in the form of cash or dog supplies, depending on each organization’s needs.
“Our world has a serious dog overpopulation problem,” said Nipa Roy, spokesperson for TrainPetDog.com. “There are tons of rescues out there, making a noble effort to save and re-home dogs, but every day they struggle to get enough funding to stay open another day. Donations are an absolute necessity for these rescues.”
“With the current economy, many dog rescues are struggling to survive even if they were doing okay before,” Roy added. “Fewer families can afford to care for their dogs, so more dogs are being surrendered and fewer are being adopted out.”
TrainPetDog.com will select 500 of the neediest dog rescues to receive donations. To be considered for the donation, a rescue must fill out the online form on TrainPetDog.com’s web site. The form requests contact information for the rescue, allows the rescue to choose whether they want the donation in cash or goods, and asks questions such as what dog breeds they rescue and why they should be chosen as one of the 500 to receive a donation.
With more than 875,000 subscribers to their free dog training mini courses, TrainPetDog.com provides breed specific information for owners who want to learn more about dog and puppy training. Rescues can link to the website to provide foster and adoptive owners with the information they need to train their dogs.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 26th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: $25, $500, 000, dog, dogs, donations, economy, funding, fundraising, grants, groups, money, offered, organization, recession, rescue, rescues, shelters, supplies, trainpet.com
So the good news is, should the recession force you to turn to dog food, it will be both palatable and good for you. The bad news is you probably won’t be able to afford it, either.
Researchers provided 18 volunteers five food samples to try in a blind taste test – all blended to the same pate-like consistency and topped with parsley: duck liver mousse, pork liver pate, liverwurst, spam and Newman’s Own-brand organic Canned Turkey & Chicken Formula (for Puppies/Active Dogs).
Only three testers were able to identify the canine food. Eight participants believed the liverwurst was the dog food, and four picked Spam as the culprit. Two people identified the pork liver pate as dog food, and one identified the duck liver mousse as dog food.
Given what’s gone on with dog food in recent years, the test results aren’t really that surprising. In the last few years, organic dog food made with human-grade free range meat and fresh vegetables has jumped in popularity, and some dog food companies have humans taste test them. There are lots of dog foods on the market that are probably better for you than some of the stuff on the human food shelves. Paul Newman himself took a big bite of his dog food on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2006 to demonstrate its wholesome goodness.
The far weirder part of this story is what the wine industry is doing running dog food tests.
“We have this idea in our head that dog food won’t taste good and that we would be able to identify it, but it turns out that is not the case,” said Robin Goldstein, a co-author of the study.
Goldstein said the tasting demonstrated that “context plays a huge role in taste and value judgment,” even though researchers warned the participants that one of the five foods they were going to taste was dog food.
Which is a fancy way of saying, with proper packaging and marketing, and if you charge way too much for it, a product will sell no matter how crappy it really is.
The authors of the report conclude that: “Although human beings do not enjoy eating dog food, they are also not able to distinguish its flavor profile from other meat-based products that are intended for human consumption.” Even though most couldn’t identify it, 72 percent of those in the study rated the dog food the worst-tasting of the five.
The study didn’t look at what wine goes best with dog food, but I would recommend a nice merlot with canned, and perhaps a sauvignon blanc with kibble.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 4th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: association, canine, canned, context, cost, distinguish, dog food, duck liver mousse, eating, food, human food, humans, jay leno, liverwurst, marketing, newman's own, organic, packaging, pate, paul newman, pork liver, price, recession, spam, taste, taste test, tonight show, wine economists, wine inddustry