Friday, November 28, 2014


Sometimes when an artist makes a painting or sculpture, it just looks "wrong."  And the reason for that might be because some body parts do not match other body parts, like for instance, the head might be too big or too small.  A bunch of this out-of-proportion art seemed to happen in Medieval and Renaissance times, but I don't know why, because I am just a little dog, and I don't have an art degree.  Maybe it was just a popular way to paint.  That's the only reason I can think of why artists would make pieces that showed people who don't look like people really look.  And not only that, but their artwork got put into museums.

Anyway, I am going to share some pictures with you that Mom took at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is where she works.  Quite a few of these are Madonna and Child pictures, but I am not trying to make any type of comment on religious beliefs, so please don't get mad at me!

Okay, so here's Mary, who has just learned from an angel that she will give birth to a baby named Jesus.  Mary puts her really large hand over her breast to show how surprised she is.

This one is a stained glass window.  The Baby Jesus is in a manger with no hay or blanket to keep him warm.  Also, he looks more like he is about four years old, instead of just having been born.  And the angel looks like she might be a midget.

Here's another manger scene.  It is painted on a large plate.  This baby is also really big for a newborn, and his limbs have articulated joints.  Either that or he's wearing elbow pads and knee pads.  But at least he has some hay to lie on and a nice blanket with stripes.

This painting shows a beautiful Madonna and a very spindly baby with a tiny head.  Maybe he will grow up to be a basketball player!

In this painting by a Dutch artist, the Madonna and child are inside a house that is not at all like any house in Nazareth might have looked at the time.  This baby is also somewhat long-limbed and small-headed.

Here's a Baby Jesus, on the other hand, who is not skinny.  He is fairly plump, and he has a double chin.  His head is kind of pointed in back, as if he had just come out of the birth canal. And his face seems  more like an adult's than a baby's. Maybe it's hard to make nice-looking people in stained glass.  I've never tried it, so I wouldn't know.

And speaking of strange-looking stained glass people.  Here are some angels adoring God.  Except that they seem to be totally sad and bored.  Their hands look like they were attached backwards to their wrists, and their hairstyles are just weird.  Oh wait, I think maybe those might be haloes!

Another plump Baby Jesus with a somewhat oddly-shaped cheeks and jaw.

"Um, are you my mother?"

This Baby Jesus has the face of a much older child, maybe 12 or so.  Mary's breast is located very high on her chest, but maybe it was pushed into that position by her clothing.  Anyway, the child is looking out at the viewer as if to show how much he is enjoying his meal.

Here are some saintly people with very strange necks.  Or at least their heads are attached to their necks in an odd way.  It's probably because of having to wear those heavy-looking haloes.

Sometimes you see paintings of men who have very long, slender fingers.  Mom heard a docent say that sometimes artists used women's hands as models when painting men, because the women had more time to pose than the men did.  We don't know if this is true or not.

And in a Chinese gallery, Mom found this Bodhisattva with humongous hands.  This might be symbolic of generosity or something.  Or maybe it's just easier to carve big hands than small hands.

And last, but not least, here's a sculpture by Auguste Rodin of Adam, the first man.  It clearly shows that Adam had everything he needed to father the human race!

Monday, November 24, 2014


You probably know that the pioneers who crossed the country on the Oregon Trail and all those other Trails traveled in covered wagons.  But do you know what brand of wagon many of them used?  I'll bet you don't, and I didn't know either until one day when Mom came home from antiquing with a framed ad from a wagon company named Schuttler.

Mom was surprised and excited to find such a thing, except it was expensive, so she had to ask the seller to lower the price.  In the end, she got it down from something like $225 to $175.  Unfortunately, it was really hard for Mom to take a picture of the ad without getting a bunch of reflections on the glass, so that's why it looks kind of cattywampus in the photo.

Anyway, the ad shows a dramatic scene of some people crossing a river with their wagon on a ferry. There is a woman standing bravely on the ferry, holding her baby in one hand.  With her other hand, she holds onto the Shuttler wagon.  This shows how safe and dependable the wagons are, even when you are in a dangerous situation.

Peter Schuttler, who started the Schuttler Wagon Company, was born on December 22, 1812, in Wachenheim, Germany.  He came to the U.S. in 1834, at the age of 22.  He worked for a while in Sandusky, OH, as a wainwright, which is what you call a person who makes wagons.  In 1843, Mr. Schuttler moved to Chicago.  He set up his own shop and started making wagons for the people who were heading west to California, Oregon, and Utah.  He also made wagons to use on farms, in mines, and for hauling freight.

Schuttler ad, 1895

By the middle of the 1850s, the Schuttler wagon company had about 100 employees, and they made 1,800 wagons a year.  Each wagon sold for around $75.  In 1863, Mr. Schuttler was one of only three people in Chicago who paid taxes on incomes of more than $100,000.  During the Civil War,  Schuttler was not chosen as a military contractor, but there were lots of civilians who needed wagons, so business was still good.

Peter Schuttler Farm Wagon
Peter Schuttler Catalog, 1879

Mr. Schuttler built a fancy mansion on a Chicago city block bordered by Aberdeen, Adams, Morgan, and Monroe Streets.  The house had many artifacts and other items brought from Germany, where Mr. Schuttler was born.  According to rumors, the house cost almost $500,000 to build, which was a whole lot of money back in those days.  For a long time, the Schuttler mansion was thought to be the finest in Chicago.  If it was still there, you could maybe go see it, but sadly, it was torn down in 1911.

Schuttler Mansion, 1863-1911
Mr. Schuttler died in 1865.  After that, his son, Peter Schuttler II took over as head of the company.  Lots of very high-quality wagons were still being made.  By 1880, there were about 300 workers, and they produced over $400,000 worth of wagons every year.

Now I will tell you an interesting bit of information that doesn't exactly have to do with wagons:  Peter Schuttler II married Wilhelmina Anheuser.  Her sister, Lilly, married a man named Adolphus Busch.  The father of these two women, along with Lilly's husband, founded the Anheuser Busch brewing company.  Which just goes to show that it's a small world, after all!

Pre-1870 Schuttler running gear

The Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 burned down the Shuttler Wagon factory.  Plans for a new, bigger factory were made right away, and it was finished by the next spring.  After that, a hub and spoke factory was added, which took up two whole blocks.  The total area of the wagon works was more than 10 acres, and there were over 400 employees.  Twelve thousand wagons were produced each year, with all the parts made from raw material such as lumber and iron.

Schuttler Factory, 1879

By 1910, the company was known as Schuttler & Hotz Manufacturers.  Peter Schuttler III was in charge, and 300 men were still employed at the factory.  But after a while, everybody started driving cars instead of using wagons, so by the middle of the 1920s, the company had to shut down.

There are still some Schuttler wagons around, and also some other brands.  You can have one of your very own if you don't mind spending anywhere from $4,000 to $37,000.  There is a catalog here.  I thought it might be fun for us to have an old wagon to put in our front yard, but Mom said that if she puts anything in the front yard, it will be a tree.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


At first, I thought I would show you a whole bunch of photos that Mom took in antique shops lately, but now I decided to just talk about two pictures that you can almost always find in any antique shop. I think it's probably a law or something that these two prints are there, and the reason I think that is because Mom says they always are.

The Blue Boy, by Thomas Gainsborough

The first picture is called The Blue Boy.  It was painted in about 1770 by a famous English artist named Thomas Gainsborough.  The young man in the painting may have been Jonathan Buttall (1752-1805), who was the son of a wealthy hardware merchant.  However, nobody knows absolutely for sure that he was the subject of the painting.  What we do know is that Mr. Gainsborough asked him to pose in 17th-century clothes so that he would look like the people in paintings done by the artist Anthony van Dyck, who was an artist that Mr. Gainsborough really admired.  The subjects in van Dyck's paintings always wore foppish, fru-fru outfits because that was apparently the style back then.

The painting is almost life-sized.  It is 48" wide and 70" tall.  It was owned by Jonathan Buttall until he filed for bankruptcy in 1796.  Then it was bought by the politician John Nesbitt, and after that by the portrait painter John Hoppner.  Earl Grosvenor added the work to his collection in about 1809, and it was passed down to his descendants.  An art dealer named Joseph Duveen bought The Blue Boy in 1921.  Meanwhile, it was exhibited several times, including at the British Institution, the Royal Academy, and other places.  Lots of people liked it and owned prints of it.

Then, in a shocking move, Mr. Duveen sold the painting to an American, the railway pioneer Henry Edwards Huntington. The NY Times reported the purchase price as $640,000, which was a record high at that time for any painting.  This amount would be over $8.5 million today. Before The Blue Boy left Britain, it was put on display for a short time at the National Gallery.  More than 90,000 people went to see it one last time in England.

Self Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough was born in 1727 in Suffolk.  In 1740, he went to London to study art, and in 1746, he married Margaret Burr.  They had two daughters.  The family lived in Bath, where the artist was patronized by fashionable society.  He began exhibiting in London, and in 1769, he became a founding member of the Royal Academy.  He didn't always get along with the group, though, and sometimes he pulled his work out of an exhibition.

A Landscape with Cattle and Figures by a Stream and a Distant Bridge
Thomas Gainsborough
Mr. Gainsborough preferred painting landscapes to painting portraits.  He is said to be one of the originators of the 18th century landscape school.  He died of cancer in 1788 and was buried at St. Anne's Church, Kew.

Spitz Dog, by Thomas Gainsborough
(Painting dogs is even better than painting landscapes, in my opinion!)

The second picture that a person often sees in an antique shop is called Pinkie.  The complete name of the portrait is Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie, and it was painted in 1794 by Sir Thomas Lawrence.  This painting also ended up in the Huntington Library at San Marino, California. It hangs in the gallery across from The Blue Boy.  The Huntington collection specializes in 18th-century English portraiture, and these two paintings are its centerpieces.

Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie,
by Thomas Lawrence

Sarah Barrett Moulton was born in Jamaica in 1783.  She and her two older brothers went to England in 1792 so that they could get a better education.  The next year, Sarah's grandmother wrote to her niece in Surrey and asked her to commission a full-length portrait of Sarah.  Sir Thomas Lawrence was chosen as the artist, and he did the painting in 1794, when Sarah was 11.  Sadly, in April of the next year, at age 12, Sarah died in Greenwich.

Pinkie was one of the last pieces acquired by Mr. Huntington, in 1927.  The work now hangs in the main gallery that was built by the Huntington foundation in 1934.  The painting achieved part of its fame by association with The Blue Boy.  Some museum guests have thought the two works were done by the same artist, but they were not.  Also, they were painted about 25 years apart.

Self Portrait, 1788
by Sir Thomas Lawrence, PRA
Sir Thomas Lawrence, who produced the portrait of Sarah Moulton, was a child prodigy and self-taught artist.  He was born in 1769 in Bristol.  His father was an innkeeper.  By the age of 10, the boy was supporting his family by selling his pastel portraits.  He had a true gift for handling paint and capturing likenesses.  In 1791, he became an associate member of the Royal Academy.  He became a full member in 1794 and president in 1820.

In spite of his talent and success in art, Sir Lawrence was usually in debt.  He was very unhappy in love, and he never married.  By the time of his death in 1830, he was the most fashionable portrait painter in Europe.

Anyway, if you want to see Pinkie or The Blue Boy, you can go to The Huntington Library, which is in California, close to Pasadena.  Besides books and paintings, they have lots of interesting plants there, including a great big cactus garden.  But if you can't afford to go to California, just visit your local antiques store, and you're almost certain to find some version of these two famous paintings there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Nemo was a black-and-tan German Shepherd who became the first war dog brought back to the U.S. from Vietnam.  He was born in October of 1962 and the Air Force bought him in the summer of 1964 to be trained as a sentry dog for one of four Air Force bases in Vietnam.

Military working dogs were approved for use in Vietnam in March, 1965.  Forty teams of dogs and handlers had been deployed by July 17, and by the end of the year, there were 99 military dogs in Vietnam.  More dogs were sent the next year, and by September of 1966, there were 500 dog teams deployed to ten bases.  Between July 1965 and December 1966, not a single group of Viet Cong managed to get inside a base guarded by sentry dogs.

Nemo began his military career by training for eight weeks at Lackland's Sentry Dog Training School in San Antonio, Texas.  Then he was assigned to a handler, Airman Leonard Bryant, Jr., of the Strategic Air Command.  In January 1966, Nemo and Airman Bryant went to South Vietnam with a large group of other dog teams.  They were stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base with the 377th Security Police Squadron.  After six months, Nemo's handler rotated back to the U.S., and Nemo got a new handler, Airman 2nd Class Robert Thorneburg.

During the early morning hours of December 3, 1966, a group of 60 Viet Cong approached the air base.  The sentry dogs alerted the men, who spent seven hours fighting off the enemy.  Three dogs and their handlers were killed.

On the following evening, Nemo and Airman Thorneburg went on patrol to look for Viet Cong who might still be lurking around the base.  They were fired on, and Thorneburg was wounded twice in the shoulder.  Nemo was shot through the right eye and also got a wound to his muzzle.  But Nemo didn't let his injuries stop him.  He threw himself in a vicious attack at the four Viet Cong who had shot him.  This gave his handler time to radio for help before he passed out.

The backup teams used dogs to find four more enemy fighters and kill them.  Meanwhile, Nemo had dragged himself over to Thorneburg and covered him with his own body.  He would not allow anyone to touch his handler, and finally a veterinarian from the base had to be called to get the dog off.

Nemo needed lots of medical attention and skin grafts to save his life.  He lost one eye, and eventually it was decided to return him to the U.S. for further treatment.  So on June 23, 1967, Air Force Headquarters said that Nemo should be returned home with honors.  He was the first sentry dog to be officially retired from active service.

Photo: Nemo's War Dog Hero's Memorial

Meanwhile, Airman Thorneburg was evacuated to the hospital at Tachikawa Air Base in Japan to get healed up.  But before he left, he and Nemo said their final goodbye.  Eventually, Thorneburg also returned to the U.S. with honors.

When Nemo arrived at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas on July 22, 1967, he was welcomed by a committee headed by Captain Robert M. Sullivan.  Captain Sullivan was the officer in charge of sentry dog training at Lackland.  "I have to keep from getting involved with individual dogs in this program," he said, "but I can't help feeling a little emotional about this dog.  He shows how valuable a dog is to his handler in staying alive."

Nemo and Captain Sullivan made a lot of appearances across the country and on TV.  They were part of the Air Force's recruitment drive for more war dog candidates.  After the American involvement in Vietnam began to wind down, Nemo settled into his special, permanent kennel at the Department of Defense Dog Center on Lackland AFB.  There was a sign there with his name, serial number, and details of his heroic deed in Vietnam.  Just seeing him there reminded students of how important a dog is to his handler and to the entire unit.

In December 1972, at the age of 11, Nemo died at Lackland AFB, and his remains were buried at the Department of Defense Dog Center.  He was lucky to be one of the few Vietnam-era war dogs who got to come back to the U.S.  Most were just left there when the troops came home.  Sadly, Nemo never got to live in a home with a family, but since he had never had that kind of life, maybe he didn't miss it.  Now his kennel is a permanent memorial to him and to all war dogs.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Shetland Pony
First, before I can tell you about a particular type of pony, I have tell you what a "pony" is, because so far, during the Year of the Horse, I have only written about horses.  Well, the definition of a pony is that it's something lots of kids want when they are little.  Mom really, really wanted one until she was about 6 or 7, but after that, she didn't want a pony anymore, because she decided she had outgrown ponies, and she wanted a horse.  Sadly, her thoughtless parents never bought her either a pony or a horse, and to this very day, she doesn't own one.

But that's enough about Mom and her silly childhood dreams.  Now she has dogs and cats, which are all the animals any human really needs.  And in my opinion, the cats aren't even necessary to have around either.

Near West Burra, Shetland Islands
Photo by Mike Pennington

Okay, so a pony is a small horse, but it's not quite that simple, because ponies often have thicker manes, tails, and coats.  Also, in proportion to a horse, a pony may have shorter legs. a wider body, heavier bones, a thicker neck, and a shorter head.  The ancestors of most ponies developed a small stature because they lived in places that were almost -- but not quite -- uninhabitable for horses.

The Shetland coat of arms.
Who knew that unicorns are from Shetland, too?
There are lots of different breeds of ponies, but I decided to talk about Shetland ponies because most people have heard of them.  Also, Mom likes Scottish stuff, so she said I should talk about ponies that come from the Shetland Islands, which are in the north part of Scotland.

A map of where you can find the Shetland Islands,
in case you are looking for them.

Small ponies have existed in the Shetland Isles for more than 2000 years.  They may have got their start in the Cob type of Tundra and Mountain Pony from Southern Europe.  Over time, these ponies migrated across the ice fields to the Shetland Islands.  People who settled in the area probably crossed the native ponies with those brought in by Norse settlers.  The harsh climate and scarce food made the ponies hardy and strong.

Pit pony being lowered into the mine

The first uses of Shetland ponies were for pulling carts, carrying peat and coal, and plowing farm land.  When the Industrial Revolution came along, there was a big need for coal, so ponies began working in mines, hauling coal.  This happened especially after 1847, when a British law made it illegal for children to work in mines.

Pit pony stable in mine

Because they were docile and willing, Shetlands generally adapted well to life underground.  They lived in stables in the mines, worked 8 hours a day pulling tubs of coal along a narrow-gauge railway, and were fed hay and maize.  Because they were valuable workers, the ponies were treated with affection by their handlers, and they got to go back above ground every once in a while.  But in general, the lives of the pit ponies were pretty short, like only about 3-1/2 years.  On the surface they might live as long as 20 years.

There was much less use of ponies in mines in the U.S., although in Appalachia, they were used for a while during the mid-twentieth century.  The last pony mine in the U.S. closed in 1971.

Shetland Pony Grand National
Photo by Peter Facey,

Shetlands have always been popular as a mount for children.  The ponies are used in riding schools, shows, harness races, carnivals, petting zoos, and the Shetland Pony Grand National.  They are also ridden for pleasure and used for therapeutic horseback riding.

Classic American Shetland
Photo:  finesongponies

The American Shetland pony is often more refined-looking than its British cousin.  This is because it has been crossed with other breeds such as the Hackney pony, Welsh pony, and the Harness Show Pony.  Shetlands in America are mostly used in harness and as children's ponies.

Dogs can ride ponies, too!

I think it might be kind of fun for us to have a pony here at our house.  It could live in our backyard, and all of us chihuahuas could ride on it and roll in the manure.  But Mom says she is so over wanting a pony that there's no way she would get one now.  Which is very sad, if you ask me!