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Heart, Soul and Oil Paint: Artist Christine Merrill

 

Artist Christine Merrill specializes in painting commissioned portraits of beloved dogs. Although the subjects of her works are often too antsy to pose for hours on end, Merrill uses multiple photographs to capture each dog's personality in every brushstroke.

Represented by the William Secord Gallery in New York, the Baltimore native has painted for such clients as Geoffrey Beene and Oprah Winfrey. Merrill's success can in part be attributed to her classical education and her intense love for dogs, especially for the many that join her pack at home.

Q: What projects are you currently working on?
A: I'm finishing two paintings for Bill Secord's book [The American Dog at Home: Dog Portraits by Christine Merrill (ACC Editions, 2010)]. One painting has four of my pets: a cat, a Pomeranian named Rudy, a Chihuahua named Brady and a Bichon Frise who was 14 when I got her. Her owner died. Everybody wanted the woman's puppy, but no one wanted the elderly dog, and I said, "I'll take her!" [My husband and I] don't have a lot of room for a lot of dogs, but we do what we can. But the cat and the Bichon Frise are gone now.

The other painting is of Misty, a Norwegian Elkhound who was dumped in our neighborhood. There was no chip, no collar, no tattoo. She was just stripped of all identification. She's my first big dog ever. I want her to be in the book because she really has added so much to my life and to my husband's, too.

Q: Have you always owned dogs?
A: Yes, since my 8th birthday. A Pomeranian - black, small, cute. He lived to be just two weeks shy of 18. I've had dogs ever since then, except for a six-week period after he died when all I had was a parrot, but I missed having a dog. That's when I got my next dog. My dad found him in the classifieds. I got him at 3 years old, and he lived to be 17 years and 8 months.

Q: Are you involved in dogs, other than painting them?
A: I support rescues and [shelters], but I have my own nonprofit going now. Not really - it's a non-nonprofit. My dad's in a nursing home, so we took in two of his dogs, a Poodle and a Shih Tzu. We have five dogs now. But they're so small that if you combine them, they're like one huge dog, or like two big dogs.

No cats, though. I take them on a case-by-case basis. I just don't trust them. They're beautiful and they can be so loving, and then all of a sudden, they'll turn and rend you, and I can't deal with that.

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