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Museum features pooches and their portraits

Jane Tenquist and Finn at dog museum
Chelsea Embree | Beacon intern | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Few museums can correctly boast of being “unique.” The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog is one.

The 14,000-square-foot facility in Queeny Park is the only museum in the world dedicated to canine art, and it has a lot of it.

“It’s kind of unusual, but then again, it’s kind of not, because there’s so much out there on the subject of dogs,” said Barbara McNab, the museum’s executive director.

On a recent day Dr. Michael Klingler, a veterinarian, was visiting with his daughter Melissa. They said it was their first visit and that they were impressed with the collection. Melissa brought her dog, a smooth-coated Chihuahua.

"I think it’s a fabulous place to learn about the history of dog photographs and things that have been done for years and years and kept as a remembrance for these people. It’s a great collection of artifacts," Klingler said.

Along with photographs, paintings and sculptures, the Museum of the Dog features dogs themselves. The Guest Dog of the Week event invites owners to present certain breeds at the museum on the weekends in March through November.

“It gives people an opportunity to meet live dogs, talk with responsible dog owners, [and] learn about breed temperament [and] history,” McNab said.

On July 6, three Labrador retrievers were at the museum to meet and greet guests with their owners, Jane Tenquist and Kevin Mahoney.

The couple has owned Labradors for several years and has presented them in shows.

"They have a nice, gentle personality. They like to be around people and other animals," Mahoney said. "They’re just fun to have; and other than shedding a lot, they’re not that much high maintenance. They like to be walked and have activities, but they’re also perfectly happy sitting around doing nothing."

Indeed, Labradors may have played a part in setting the couple's marriage in motion. Mahoney grew up with the dogs and ended up sharing his love for them with Tenquist.

"He knew with his busy job that he couldn’t take care of dogs alone, so we were dog care partners. And that’s kind of what brought us together," Tenquist said.

At this event, which was their third or fourth presentation of Labradors, they both wanted to share their affection for the dogs with those who came.

Sometimes, McNab said that visitors who feel the love will seek out dog adoptions.

“A lot of the people who come out here, they’re a member of a dog club or maybe an adoption/rescue organization, so they can help steer people,” McNab said.

This event is one way McNab hopes to "get more people in, get more people to enjoy" the museum. She said "anybody who’s had a dog, lives with a dog, I think can relate to what’s in the collection."

The museum's collection contains both contemporary works and some of the earliest paintings of dogs.

According to McNab, dogs first became the subject of artworks in the late 1800s, when Queen Victoria, who had “more dogs than you can count,” commissioned some of the best painters of the time to create portraits of her pets. These paintings were instrumental in shifting the perception of dogs from workers to companions.

Because of England’s influence on the world, the queen’s pup portraits “set the trend globally for people to go out and have their dog’s painting made. So there’s this cornucopia of really good dog art coming out of the 19th century. And it’s just continued from there,” McNab said.

Deerhound and Recumbent Foxhound
Credit by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer
Deerhound and Recumbent Foxhound

She pointed out the most significant piece: “Deerhound and Recumbent Foxhound,” a painting by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, one of Queen Victoria’s favorite painters.

“There’s this touch of sentimentality,” she said. “He’s telling you these are living things, there’s emotion here, there’s feelings — as opposed to a lot of the portraits, which are static.”

Aside from evoking emotion, the piece also evokes value. McNab said that it is worth about $800,000.

“You cannot find [Landseer's work] anymore at auction because people who have him don’t get rid of him,” she said.

Included with the more contemporary artists is Dave Mills, whose photography exhibit just opened in June and runs through Sept. 29. He is known for action shots of dogs in sports.

McNab said the museum keeps a registry of artists who are available to paint dog portraits by commission. More than 300 are currently on the list.

Whether visitors come to get dog art made or just to see it, McNab hopes to share what is "near and dear to everybody’s heart."

The museum is open everyday but Monday to everyone — and their dogs.

Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for seniors and $1 for children ages 5-14. The hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.

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