Category: Art Tour

Why is there a dog here?

I recently went to London with my friend Kristin and we stayed with our friend Heather at her flat in Marylebone. The three of us always have a good time and I’m always happy to go. As we have on other trips, we spent a fair amount of time in art museums. On this trip we visited the The Wallace Collection, The National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery. They’re all amazing and I highly recommend them if you visit London, especially The Wallace Collection with it’s eclectic but amazing assortment of art and armor.

When I see a lot of different artwork all at once, I tend to reach a saturation point, after which I just start looking for dogs. You find them in the most interesting places in a wide variety of paintings from many different eras. Usually the dogs are clearly a natural part of the scene or perhaps even the focus of the painting, but not always. For example:


This is a serious painting of a serious religious event. No I don’t remember what it’s called or who painted it when. I was saturated by this point in the day, but look at the little white dog. Why is he in the painting? Why would a dog be in church at all? The sign next to the painting didn’t say, but I wonder.

Then there’s this:


This is the corner of a huge painting of four Dutch looking guys after they’ve signed an important document. It was painted to commemorate a significant political event, and yet the artist includes a lovely portrait of this little dog. I believe this is someone’s actual dog. Perhaps the artist included a beloved pet. Maybe the dog belonged to one of the men pictured and was actually at the event. Or maybe the patron of the painting asked for a portrait of his own dog to be included. The sign next to the painting didn’t mention the dog. Whose dog is this?

The more I looked, the more dogs I found in strange places or sometimes doing strange things. In one painting that I didn’t take a picture of because the dog was too small and the painting was too high on the wall, there was a dog crouched to defecate. It was a beautiful large landscape featuring a lot of winter activity, but toward the lower right corner there was a dog getting ready to do his business. Was the artist trying to say something about the commission? Was his patron a jerk? Was this dog a way of thumbing his nose? Or did the patron ask for it as an inside joke? I don’t know. Once again, the sign didn’t mention it.

And then there were paintings where clearly the dogs just don’t belong.


This painting of a satyr morning over a nymph was painted in 1495 by Piero di Cosimo, but it almost looks like two different paintings. The satyr and the nymph are exquisitely portrayed, but the dog in the foreground as well as the dogs in the background are much more roughly painted in like an afterthought. Look at the white dogs forelegs. They’re improbably positioned unlike anything else in the painting. It makes me wonder if the patron looked at the painting of the satyr and the nymph and said, “You know, Piero, there’s a lot of room on the right side and in the back. How about throw in some dogs. People love dogs.” So Piero threw them in.

So those of you out there with an art history degree, enlighten me. What’s up with all the dogs? I’m not complaining mind you. I love dogs, but it is curious. Don’t you think?



Artists Studio Tour

Yesterday, I went with my sister, my niece and two close friends to the Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour. It’s a fantastic event that I look forward to every year. I really enjoy seeing where people create their work. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of the artist. Going on this tour every year and talking to the artist certainly helped inform Kate’s life and work in One Big Beautiful Thing. Over the years, I’ve developed some favorites, so I thought I’d share them with you here.

Generally, the first stop we make is always Shawn Grove’s studio where he works with Bryan Mattraw. Shawn and Bryan use a salt glaze in a wood fired kiln, that unlike an electric kiln, doesn’t heat evenly throughout, thereby giving the work a unique glaze that is masculine, raw and very natural. Their work is tremendous and unlike any pottery you’ve seen. They do functional pieces as well as art pieces and they always have something delightful and new every time I go out to their studio. I wish they had a webpage so I could show you their work, but they don’t. Here is a link to their tour page though, so you can have a tiny taste of what it’s like.

On the opposite end of the pottery spectrum from Shawn and Bryan is Kristen Swanson at White House Ceramic Studios. Kristen works in porcelain, which if you know anything about pottery, is the most difficult material to work with since it’s so soft. Kristen, however, has mastered it. Her forms are so graceful and elegant and her decorations are so beautiful, it’s simply amazing. She’s happy to take custom orders and seriously go to her webpage and see how stunning her work is. You won’t be disappointed

We also always stop in Waterford on these tours, not only because Waterford is a charming little town, but because it’s home to two of my other favorite artists: Katherine Riedel and Kathie Ratcliff.

Katherine’s studio is right in the middle of town. She does wonderful landscape and still life paintings of the world around her. Her work is charming and so evocative of all that is western Loudoun. She also does portraits and is wonderfully friendly and fun to talk to. Not to mention, her dog is often with her in the studio, which is always a bonus in my book.

A pleasant walk away from Katherine’s studio is Kathie’s Nine Patch Studio, where she creates miniature quilts, which doesn’t quite describe the intricate craftsmanship and artistry that goes into these wonderful creations. Kathie and her husband are a lovely couple and so knowledgable about the entire history of quilts. They offer a fun and informative tour of her work, which is just fantastic. You almost have to see it in person to believe it. I don’t think the pictures on her website quite do it justice.

There are many more wonderful artists on the tour, but those are some of my favorites. If you’ve never done a tour like this, you should definitely try it. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. The good news is there is another artists tour in November. The Catoctin Holiday Art Tour is another great Loudoun artists tour. They haven’t update the website for 2013 yet, but the flyers are out, so they should be doing that with dates and artists lists soon. It’s a great way to do unique holiday shopping and it’s another tour I look forward to every year.