North Adams’ Museum of Dog highlights art made about, created by man’s best friend

  • The Museum of Dog in North Adams includes a seating area for both dogs and people, which is decorated with canine-themed art. Contributed photo/Museum of Dog

  • A large terracotta dog on display at Museum of Dog in North Adams. Contributed photo/Museum of Dog

  • A stone garden dog from the late 18th century, on display at Museum of Dog in North Adams. Contributed photo/Museum of Dog

  • For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat Museum of Dog, located at 55 Union St. in North Adams, includes five rooms of canine-themed exhibits. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat Museum of Dog, located at 55 Union St. in North Adams, includes five rooms of canine-themed exhibits.

  • Museum of Dog in North Adams has a large collection of historic dog collars on display. Contributed photo/Museum of Dog

  • David York, founder of Museum of Dog, holds a Pomeranian, Bailey, who was visiting the museum. In the background rests a Jeep seat that was chewed by York’s dog, Daisy, and is now on display at the museum. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

  • Pomeranian dogs Romeo, left, and Bailey, visitors to Museum of Dog in North Adams. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

For the Recorder
Published: 9/19/2018 3:29:08 PM

I was driving along Route 2 west on my way to visit cousins in Vermont in early July. As I came into downtown North Adams, I spotted a perplexing sign on a squarish mid-century building. It read, “Museum of Dog.”

I didn’t have time to stop to investigate that day. I filed the name away in the back of my brain, however. As a lover of both museums and dogs, I definitely wanted to know more.

A couple of weeks ago, I returned to North Adams to tour the museum and meet its founder, David York. In addition to a number of humans who were also visiting that morning, two Pomeranian dogs from Fishkill, N.Y., were touring the exhibits with their owners.

Romeo and Bailey were more interested in hugging York and in investigating the treats in my pocket than in learning about the artifacts on display. Nevertheless, they enhanced the experience of visiting a dog-themed museum.

Something to wag about

Museum of Dog is located in a former paint and wallpaper store and takes up five rooms. One room displays a rotating exhibit by a guest artist.

It currently features Brian Nash, who has created a series of colorful canvases displaying his whimsical takes on famous works of art (including “American Gothic” and “The Scream”) with dogs in the place of the original human subjects. This exhibit will be on display through the end of October.

The two main rooms of the museum display items from York’s own collection of dog-related artifacts. Some of these date from his childhood, including Steiff hand puppets, small dog coin banks and dog encyclopedias.

Others were amassed over the past two decades. They were stored in various locations, both home and business, before becoming an official museum collection.

Among the 300 or so items York owns are dog collars, some of which date to the 18th century; paintings old and new, including portraits of his own beloved dogs and pieces by well-known artists; dog photographs by William Wegman; garden statues; sculptures; tapestries; and much more.

Famous dogs in American popular culture are represented, including Lassie, Snoopy, Nipper the RCA Victor dog, and McGruff the crime dog. One can see dog perfume bottles, a dog humidor for cigars and 3-D dog art.

The building’s past is honored in the museum. Paint cans prop up some of the display items, and a few old wallpaper books are available for view. (One was opened to show off a sample of poodle wallpaper when I visited.)

Other areas of the museum include a dressing room for Daisy, York’s current rescue dog, who made appearances during Art Week this past spring; an area in which videos will soon be displayed to entertain canine visitors; and a room devoted to the “art” of Daisy the dog.

That art, it turns out, is a Jeep she chewed up systematically. Not only did Daisy manage to tear apart at least one of the Jeep’s seats — currently on display in all its glory — but she cleverly removed every single knob from the dashboard. Daisy is thorough.

Dogs throughout life

In between greeting human and canine visitors, York was happy to talk about his love of dogs and the origins of his museum.

“I grew up on a farm in southeastern Missouri,” he recalled. “My grandmother loved horses and dogs. She had all kinds of rescue dogs.” York’s own first dog was a shepherd named Shep.

After college, he worked on private-label merchandising for Macy’s and developed several private-label brands, including Aéropostale, in New York before opening a chain of restaurants. He moved to Atlanta, Ga., where he was briefly stymied because he couldn’t find someone to take care of his dogs when he needed to travel for work.

His solution was to open his own dog hotel and daycare center, Barking Hound Village. That enterprise expanded to a total of seven establishments (two in Georgia, three in Texas) before he sold it in April 2017.

Barking Hound Village was the source of much of the museum’s collection. York purchased dog-related paraphernalia to exhibit in each daycare center’s lobby. He was also given doggy gifts by grateful patrons and by community groups thanking him for charitable work.

“I may have 3,000 pair of dog cufflinks,” he remarked.

York explained he decided to open the museum when he visited MASS MoCA and fell in love with North Adams.

“I took out a contract on this and several other buildings,” he said.

Two of the other buildings are being transformed into eateries in North Adams. Bowlin’ on the River is a build-your-own-bowl restaurant (dog friendly, of course) at which customers can combine their favorite base — noodles, greens, rice — with a variety of toppings.

The soon-to-open Campground Coffee will be a coffee shop with camping paraphernalia for décor. York has also set up a food truck outside the museum.

Ironically, York opened his museum as a sort of afterthought. He originally planned to repurpose the old paint and wallpaper store as an art gallery. While working on that project, he began to unpack his numerous crates of dog-related art and souvenirs.

A metaphorical lightbulb went off over his head, and the museum was born.

‘Instant happiness’

York believes that what makes the museum work is the love of dogs he shares with visitors.

“The dog theme is what makes it a success,” he enthused. “It’s a total dog thing!”

York’s own favorite items are the dog collars.

“I think about the dogs who would have worn them and the places they’ve been,” he said.

Museum of Dog, which opened in late April, is a success so far, York said.

“Most people walk in and just smile … a very big smile. (The place) induces instant happiness. Most visitors bring their dogs and stay longer than they expected.”

He observed that many of the visitors are surprised and pleased to learn that “it really is all about dogs.”

The museum is such a success, in fact, that York plans to move it to a larger location. He is renovating a property in Pittsfield that will offer more gallery space, an attached dog-friendly restaurant, a river walk, a large patio and lots of parking. Weekend dog-related comedy shows will be performed in a small theater.

The move to Pittsfield is projected to take place in the early winter.

“It will hit more of the population that needs that experience,” Museum Director Colleen Janz said of the museum’s move. “With David’s vision and determination, it’s going to be a success.”

Janz displayed huge enthusiasm both for the museum (she gives hourly tours of its wonders) and for its founder. She pointed to a newspaper clipping on the wall telling the story of a dog named Hope. Hope was shot and buried alive in Texas.

York paid for Hope’s medical care, found her a home (he wanted to adopt her himself but found that she was frightened of men after her treatment at the hands of a couple of them), and made sure the miscreants were prosecuted.

“That’s his heart,” Janz said. “That’s who he is.”

Janz and York both spoke with animation about an upcoming exhibit for which they are currently soliciting donations. Based on the work of York’s Weimaraner Daisy, the Chew Exhibit will feature pieces of “subtractive sculpture” created by dogs from across the country, along with essays about each dog artist.

The pair are expecting several thousand submissions for this gallery show. I am seriously considering sending in my dog Cocoa’s crowning achievement: a straw hat from which she removed a silk flower and much of the straw. (It was, alas, one of my favorite hats.) I can’t wait to see this exhibit, which is scheduled to debut in February in the new location.

Museum of Dog is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Visitors are encouraged to book tours by calling 413-389-5199 or by visiting www.museumofdog.com.

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and $1 for children. Dogs are admitted for free.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.


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