Stephen Huneck


MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - 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, has died. He was 60.

Huneck, of St. Johnsbury, committed suicide Thursday in Littleton, N.H. His wife said he was despondent after being forced to lay off employees at his Dog Mountain studio and dog chapel.

"Like many Americans we had been adversely affected by the economic downturn," Gwen Huneck wrote in a letter Friday announcing his death.

"Stephen feared losing Dog Mountain and our home. 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," she wrote.

Two days later, he shot himself in the head while sitting in a parked car outside the office of his psychiatrist, she said.

"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. "I appreciate how much energy he put into his works, which were whimsical and sardonically funny. He really had a unique sense of humor."

A native of Sudbury, Mass., he started out whittling wooden sculptures and later dog-themed furniture, like the wooden pews eventually installed in the chapel, which he built in 2000, a miniature version of the 19th-century churches that dot Vermont's landscape.

Built of wood harvested from his 175-acre Dog Mountain property, it had vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows with images of dogs pieced into them.

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

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

Dog lovers would make the trip to Vermont just to see the chapel, many writing handwritten notes to their long-gone pets and affixing them to the interior walls, where they remained.

Huneck's books, about his beloved Labrador retrievers, including "Sally Goes to the Beach," ''Sally Goes to the Farm" and "Sally Gets a Job," featured woodcut prints accompanied by quirky captions.

"They were totally unique, very insightful, particularly for dog lovers," said Irwin Gelber, executive director of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, a library and art center where Huneck frequently gave readings. "He seemed to create works and captions that just captured that expressed every dog lover's insights into owning and loving animals."

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

Guest Book

Not sure what to say?

I had the pleasure of going to dog mountain for the first time this memorial day weekend for the dog party and celebration of Stephen's life and art. Having just lost my beloved 15-year-old lab, Zack, just three weeks ago, I thought this a fitting tribute to honor his life in a place where dogs are so cherished. I was amazed at how beautiful dog mountain is-it truly brought me the first sense of peace I've had since losing my best friend. We had a wonderful day with our 2 other labs--and even...

I first wrote on January 28, 2010-today I write again with tears in my eyes & a bruised heart. Our beloved Yellow Lab of 13 years went to Dog Heaven today. Murphy had nothing to fear as she had already visited the Dog Chapel & she knew that she would see so many of her canine buddies. I love you Murph & always will remember your silky,soft ears and thumping tail!!

I Love you..."Old Gal!!"
love you murphy with all my heart!!!!

My husband and I visited Stephens gallery in 2005 and I loved those pieces so much that for our 1st anniversary he bought me a giclee. I look at that print everyday and it brings such joy. Stephen will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family....

My husband & I visited Stephen's galleries and Dog Chapel many times. Pictures of our beloved pets are on the walls in the Chapel. We own a "Love Is Give & Take" print. Also, Stephen autographed a copy of "The Dog Chapel" for us. He was truly a talented and compassionate man and we were so sorry to hear of his passing. We had the pleasure of meeting him once at The Dog Chapel. May you rest in peace, Stephen, with your beloved dogs who were waiting for you.

Cookie and I learned of Stephen's passing today...we're both a bit stunned, and it's all we can think about right now. His art, all cat stuff, is scattered throughout our house and help give it a sense of lightness and peace. We had the pleasure of meeting Stephen in Santa Fe 13 or so years back, and to say he had a impact on us would be a profound understatement. Our heartfelt condolences to you, Gwen.

I am so sorry to see the light of this man snuffd out....he obviously cared deeply about animals and people and had not only a sense of humour but insight into the value of animals and art...I love his work and I hope he is in a happier place..I hope his spirit will pass this way again..He brought so much joy to us...linda stevenson

His picture of True Love hangs in our kitchen, and his vision always brightens my heart. He brought us a gift and I am deeply grateful for him and his inspiration.

June 4, 2010 I heard a piece on NPR today about the tragic death of this wonderful artist and author. He was a very gifted man with a great love of animals that will always be remembered and honored. It is a shame that it took his death to bring this story to such a wide audience. My son took his own life when he was 26 years old because of depression and the world also lost another gifted writer and loving person. It is always such a tragedy for someone's life to end like this. I hope he is...

I am in complete shock after learning of Stephen's death. I am a Vermont native that relocated to the west coast and last summer my children and I visited Dog Mountain on a whim. My husband had passed away 6 months earlier and I thought what a shame that we had never taken the time to go there before his death. My children loved the chapel and it brought a sense of peace to them knowing that someone cared that much for all our beloved pets. I will shed many tears tonight and I wish his...