MISSION: Long before iPhone Fido photos and pup-themed hashtags ran rampant across the Web, pet owners and animal lovers were commemorating their love for dogs in other ways. From visual pieces such as paintings to utilitarian items like ink wells, the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog is focused on collecting, preserving and showing dog-themed works of art.
HISTORY: After a few years on the ground floor of the New York Life Building, the Museum of the Dog moved to Missouri in search of more space and permanent residence. In 1986, the museum moved to its current location in Queeny Park's historic Jarville House. Since then, it has grown in multiple ways, according to executive director Stephen George. "It's not just grown in the collection, but also grown in notoriety, membership and people who understand who and what we are."
The museum's collection contains more than 7,000 pieces, primarily from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. "Everything that we get is donated," explains George. "Sometimes it comes from an estate or from an individual who is a fan of the museum and wishes to have some of their artwork given to us."
COMMUNITY IMPACT: This pet-friendly museum offers St. Louisans a culture-rich way to spend an afternoon with their four-legged friend. "Every breed of dog you can imagine has been here," George says. "Virtually every day, somebody is here with a dog—it's really quite fun." If the thought of paw-ruined artwork crosses your mind, note that George says he's never seen any poor pup behavior. "The people who typically come in respect the artwork and respect the museum, and their dogs are well-behaved… It just hasn't been an issue." To keep happy tails from causing an unhappy accident, he notes that "there's nothing low enough and small enough" to be inadvertently broken by a joyful wag.
A variety of community-focused programs are available at the museum, including dog training courses each Tuesday in collaboration with Kennelwood Pet Resorts. For those without a dog, or looking to learn more, the Guest Dog of the Week program introduces individuals to specific breeds and their owners. "The Guest Dog of the Week program has been in existence for a number of years, but recently it's really grown," explains George. "People can come in and meet the breed and [learn to] understand the breed—whether it's high energy or low energy, whether it's good with children, and so on."
For those inspired by the work inside the museum, the Artist's Registry program allows visitors to look up artists available to be commissioned for personal pet pieces. Additionally, beginning in June, regional artists will be visiting the museum to show work and demonstrate techniques, says George.
On the research side of history, the museum houses the Hope A. Levy Memorial Library. This dog-focused library, which is free to the public, houses more than 3,000 texts and is available by appointment.
After visiting the museum with their dogs, pet owners may soon have another nearby attraction. Currently on the table is a proposed 7-acre dog park that would be adjacent to the museum, says George. The park, to be developed and maintained by Saint Louis County Parks, will feature separate areas for large and small dogs. Opening is slated for late spring or early summer of this year.
WHAT/WHEN/WHERE: LUNCHEON BENEFIT, JUNE 19, NOON, SAKS FIFTH AVENUE
Famed jewelry designer Hutton Wilkinson will serve as the luncheon speaker, as well as present a trunk show for his collection.
GET INVOLVED: For more information, call 821-3647 or visit museumofthedog.org.
ON THE BOARD: MARY-RANDOLPH BALLINGER
"The Museum of the Dog is just one more gem that we have in St. Louis that we need to keep in St. Louis," says board member Mary-Randolph Ballinger. Ballinger has been involved for about six years, and is serving as honorary co-chair of the upcoming luncheon, alongside event chair Veronica McDonnell, as well as honorary co-chairs Mary Lee Hermann and Ann Lieberman.
At the event, Ballinger says look for Hutton Wilkinson to talk about famous actresses and actors and their dogs. "And he's also going to add to that [some] fun things about the Hollywood life he's experienced…Hutton is totally charming—a very brilliant man and a brilliant designer."
Ballinger is retired from Janet McAfee Real Estate. A St. Louis native, she attended Washington University and studied art history and psychology. Outside of her work with the Museum of the Dog, Ballinger serves as a trustee for the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Missouri Botanical Garden, and as board member for Washington University's Kemper Art Museum, the Garden Club of St. Louis, The Sam Fox School National Council and The St. Louis Mercantile Library. She also is chairman of the board of the Pitchfork Land and Cattle Co. in Guthrie, Texas.