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Stephen Huneck, 60; famed for paintings, prints of dogs

By John Curran
Sunday, January 10, 2010; C07

Folk artist Stephen Huneck, whose whimsical paintings, sculptures and woodcut prints of dogs celebrated his love of animals and won him a worldwide fan base, committed suicide Jan. 7. He was 60.

His wife said he was despondent after having to lay off employees at his Dog Mountain studio and dog chapel, near his home in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

"Stephen feared losing Dog Mountain and our home," Gwen Huneck wrote in a letter announcing her husband's death. "Then on Tuesday we had to lay off most of our employees. This hurt Stephen deeply. He cared about them and felt responsible for their welfare."

Mr. Huneck shot himself in the head while sitting in a parked car outside the office of his psychiatrist in Littleton, N.H.

"He was one of the most creative and active members of the Vermont crafts community," said Jennifer Boyer, co-owner of the Artisans Hand craft gallery in Montpelier, Vt.

Mr. Huneck, a native of Sudbury, Mass., started out whittling wooden sculptures and later moved on to dog-themed furniture, like the wooden pews eventually installed in the chapel. The chapel, built in 2000 with wood harvested from his 175-acre Dog Mountain property, was a miniature version of the 19th-century churches that dot Vermont's landscape. It had vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows with images of dogs pieced into them.

"Welcome all creeds, all breeds. No dogmas allowed," the sign outside said.

Dog lovers made the trip to Vermont just to see the chapel, many writing handwritten notes to long-gone pets and affixing them to the interior walls.

"When dogs pull up in here, they may never have been here before, but it's like they saw the 'Disneyland' sign," Mr. Huneck said in a 2008 interview with the Associated Press. "They just get so excited, so happy."

Mr. Huneck wrote several books about his Labrador retrievers. The books had woodcut prints accompanied by quirky captions.

"He seemed to create works and captions that just captured that expressed every dog lover's insights into owning and loving animals," said Irwin Gelber, executive director of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, a library and art center where Huneck often gave readings.

-- Associated Press

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