Staffers at Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury, a gallery and chapel for dog lovers, have been working hard all summer to keep the business going. It hasn’t been easy to carry on after the two founders took their own lives, but the future looks brighter now.
Stephen Huneck, artist and founder of Dog Mountain, committed suicide in 2010, and his wife Gwen did the same earlier this summer. But visitors are still showing up at the pastoral compound, many with dogs.
On this hot late summer day, Leonora Forslund and her friend Mary Anne Gummere are watching their pets play near the Gallery. When they heard that Gwen Huneck had died, Gummere says they were shocked.
“Great worries, because I walk here three to four times a week and my dog has great freedom, she can swim in the pool,” Gummere said. “We snowshoe in the winter and it’s completely open to the public. The Hunecks were very, very generous and I worried a lot that I would lose my place to walk and refresh myself and my dog.”
She had reason for concern. To maintain the 150- acre property, including a chapel, and keep employees paid, Stephen Huneck needed to sell lots of his prints, sculpture, furniture and books. The art market tanked during the last recession, but his widow, Gwen, somehow managed to keep the doors open. When she died in June, Art Director Amanda McDermott was stunned. As a few customers browse, she sits on a bench stroking Sally, the puppy she inherited from the boss she loved.
"I wasn’t really thinking about the future of Dog Mountain when I heard of Gwen, I just thought of, like, I just lost a mother, you know, and a friend and somebody that was just a part of my life on a daily and nightly basis sometimes. We would hang out and have a glass of wine down at her house. We always talked shop, we always said, ‘no, no, no, no work talk, no work talk.’ And then it just always crept in all the time," McDermott recalled.
Now she and a handful of other staffers are keeping the business going. There has been an outpouring of community support, with volunteers sprucing up the grounds, building new fences, and, Labor Day weekend, painting. McDermott is re-shuffling some of Huneck’s basic motifs to create fresh images and objects.
"I like being able to carry on. We’re making new prints cause I’m looking over there at the 'Barking For No Reason' print, that has always been a black lab that I recently turned into a beagle."
Because beagles, she notes, bark maybe even more than labs. McDermott is now customizing art for owners who want it to look like their favorite breed. And she hopes they will continue to buy up Huneck-inspired whimsy so that the serious business of shaping Dog Mountain’s future can proceed.