|By Paula Jarrett
NEW YORK CITY — For dog lovers, New York City’s newest museum is a glorious immersion into Fido’s world without the slobber, barking or muddy paws.
For lovers of antiques and collectibles, it’s a modern high-class place to admire the finest artwork, sculptures and rarities of all things canines.
The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog re-opened in New York City in February after a 30-year stint in St. Louis. Re-imagined with high tech touches, the museum is housed in the same midtown Manhattan office building as the AKC headquarters, one block from Grand Central Station.
On display are about 150 pieces of the museum’s expansive collection of 17,000 items. The inaugural exhibit, For the Love of All Things Dog, showcases some of the best the museum has to offer. The exhibition ranges from the scientific — such as a 30-million-year old fossil of an ancient dog and a 2,000-year-old paw print — to the whimsical, such as photographer William Webman’s images of Weimaraners in humanlike situations.
The official mission of the museum is the exhibition, collection, interpretation, and preservation of the art, artifacts, and literature of the dog for purposes of aesthetic enjoyment and to enhance the human/canine relationship.
It’s also a colossal tribute to the vocations of breeding and competing purebred dogs, a human preoccupation that dates back centuries.
“This museum is a beautiful ode to man’s best friend and we are thrilled to bring these pieces and exhibitions to new audiences,’’ said Alan Fausel, director of cultural resources for the AKC and director of the museum.
The paintings are historic and astonishing in their range of breeds and dog behaviors. There’s Ceasar, the beloved Fox Terrier of Britain’s King Edward VII, resting his head mournfully on an empty armchair. Ceasar was painted by Maud Earl, the renowned British-American painter who once had an exhibit featuring 48 different breeds of dogs. The museum owns 20 canvases and other artworks by Earl, who will be featured this summer in the museum’s next exhibit of women artists.
Other notable oil masterpieces include The Poacher by Richard Ansdell in 1865, a spectacular portrayal of a poacher pinned to the ground by a groundskeeper’s mastiff; as well as paintings from the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Oudry and American artist Percival Rosseau. The front hallway displays a Rosseau painting of a hunting dog, one of the showpieces of the entire exhibit.
There are portraits of U.S. presidents’ dogs, including Millie, the springer spaniel owned by George H.W. and Barbara Bush (along with a letter from the first lady extolling the virtues of canine companions). A portrait of Barney and Miss Beazley, owned by George W. and Laura Bush, also is on display, the silky black of the Scottish Terriers’ coats popping on a yellow chair in the White House.
Founded in 1982, the museum was originally housed in the lobby of the New York Life Building. In the 1980s, the museum was moved to St. Louis to gain more space at the historic Jarville House. The AKC, meanwhile, had maintained its own collection of arts and artifacts through donations by dog lovers and prominent figures in the sport. The new Museum of the Dog brings together both collections in a unique glassy space with hopes of boosting attendance to 10,000 visitors a year.
If Fausel’s name sounds familiar maybe it’s due to his longtime run as an expert on The Antique Roadshow, or his stints at two famed international auction houses, Bonhams and Doyle, in New York. He and his wife own a Welsh Springer spaniel named Gemma.
For antique lovers visiting the museum, Fausel recommends the Victorian dog cart, which was built for a child to ride in while pulled by large dogs. “It’s unique,” says Fausel, “Quite an interesting thing.” Other popular items include an Edwardian dog house built for a Chihuahua, two life-sized ceramic Great Danes, and a hallway of movie posters, Lassie, Babe and Old Yeller among them. In the front window stands a majestic statue of a German Shepherd, the museum’s tribute to search and rescue dogs of Sept. 11.
Of note to collectors, Fausel said, would be competition trophies won by famous dogs over the years, including an 1875 Tiffany trophy and several 19th century silver examples. There’s even a field competition trophy from the late 1800s won by Sensation, the Pointer who became mascot of the AKC and graces its logo.
Collectors also may fawn over the museum’s collection of dog collars. A collar owned by someone famous or worn by a famous dog can make it collectible, says Fausel, as long as it’s in excellent condition. At Bonham’s, Fausel once auctioned off a leather-and-brass collar that had belonged to the author Charles Dickens. The 19th century collar, which included a brass plate engraved with Dickens’ name, fetched nearly $12,000. The museum collection includes examples of spiked collars once worn by hunting dogs to protect their necks from their prey.
The museum boasts a large selection of bronzes, including those by the French sculptors Isadore Bonhem and Pierre-Jules Mene. The porcelain items are among the strongest aspects of the museum, Fausel says. And therein lies one of the downsides to having enthusiastic collectors donate their collections: having to deal with too many of the same item. The museum once received, from the same client, nine Royal Doulton figurines of the famous Rough Collie Ashtead Applause.
“Somebody gave us 300 bulldogs,” Fausel says. “We don’t need all of them. It’s the nature of collectors.”
The museum also went high-tech with the move to New York. Several interactive exhibits await visitors, including the Find Your Breed kiosk where the visitor’s photo is taken and matched to an AKC-registered dog breed. There’s also a touchscreen table allowing visitors to select a dog breed and learn about its history, features and traits, and where it can be seen in the exhibit. And, especially popular with kids, there’s Molly — a digital Labrador puppy visitors can feed, pet and ask to do tricks, like catch a ball.
What the museum doesn’t have is actual dogs, as no dogs are allowed except service animals. While you won’t see mutts in the collection since most of the items were donated by AKC breeders, Fausel is quick to point out that nearly all of the AKC breed chapters have official rescue arms that assist in the rehoming of their particular breed. And, he notes, purposeful breeding has honed valuable traits in dogs, a remarkable variety of which are on display in the Museum of the Dog.
“I think the best thing to take away is the fact that dogs were meant to have different jobs,” Fausel said. “It’s learning why they were purposely bred for certain jobs, and their activities and attributes.”
Museum of the Dog is located at 101 Park Ave. in New York. For more information visit https://museumofthedog.org.