Each Thanksgiving, thousands leave the dinner table and head to the TV to watch champions compete – not on the gridiron but in the show ring. These champions are four-legged athletes vying for Best of Show honors at The National Dog Show.
Locally, the event will be closely followed by Stephen George, executive director of the AKC Museum of The Dog.
A unique facility located in the 1853 Jarville House within Queeny Park, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of canine-related art and artifacts dedicated to man’s best friend.
“There isn’t any other museum anywhere on the globe that’s dedicated to the artwork of dogs of all breeds and the canine-human relationship. We’re the only one,” said George.
But the museum wasn’t a St. Louis original.
“The Dog Museum was established by the Westminster Kennel Club and came to fruition in 1981 in Manhattan, the AKC headquarters,” George explained. He noted that 27 years ago, “the Danforth family and then County Executive Gene McNary worked together with the AKC to bring the museum to St. Louis.”
West St. Louis county provided the perfect national crossroads and the growing space the museum required. On display at any given time are 4,000 to 5,000 items. Its total collection houses over 7,000 pieces including paintings, drawings, porcelains, bronzes and non-fine art materials such as dog colors and toys depicting dogs. With such a vast collection housed within one of St. Louis County’s premier park sites, it’s surprising how the Dog Museum – with its national recognition – often has been overlooked on the local level.
“Overlooked is a good description,” George said.
But thanks to the museum’s exhibits and community events such as lectures and special programs for kids, the museum and its collections are becoming better known. Current exhibitions include Dogs in Porcelain Sculpture and Jim The Wonder Dog.
The latter focuses on Jim, a Missouri Llewellyn Setter. Jim had a reputation for understanding and carrying out complete instructions given in several languages, shorthand and Morse code. He was even credited with the ability to predict future events, having picked seven Kentucky Derby winners. (See related story online at newsmagazinenetwork.com.)
“We have enormous things in the works,” said George as he outlined the museum’s upcoming events. The schudule includes a display inspired by the recent donation of a Maude Earl painting.
“Maude Earl was the foremost painter of canines in the U.S. and Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She became renowned for what she did – painting the royal court’s and other famous people’s dogs,” he added.
The painting is an anonymous gift whose provenance has remained a mystery along with the identity of the woman depicted on the large canvas, which measures 8.5 feet tall and 5.5 feet wide.
“It’s a mystery,” said George. “Earl painted few human subjects, but nobody knows who the woman in the painting is. Since it has always been kept in private collections, we may never know.”
Exhibits such as the one featuring the Maude Earl painting and the upcoming holiday event Pictures with Santa, on Nov. 29, are discoveries visitors can make with their dogs in tow.
“We’re dog friendly,” George said, as the sound of barking dogs echoed through the museum.“In fact, I know those barks. They’re Bassets. They visit often.”
Canine visitors are greeted with special treats and water bowls – and regular four-legged visitors know to stop at the reception desk and wait for their treats before proceeding through the museum with their human companions.
Located at 1721 South Mason Road, the museum and gift shop is open year-round from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday and on holidays; admission is charged.