Park Avenue’s gone to the dogs – but not in the traditional sense of that phrase. Instead, we’re referring to the recent arrival of the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, which has opened its Manhattan doors within an easy walk from Grand Central Terminal.
In honor of this issue, WAG headed down to check out this homage to man’s best friend — relocated from St. Louis — and found an impressively crafted destination encompassing three stories of gallery space, plus library and gift shop.
All is designed to captivate, entertain — and educate — most any dog lover around, an easy task considering the wealth of dog-themed oil paintings and brass sculptures, porcelain figurines and historic memorabilia such as silver trophies. Interactive displays, information stations, research opportunities and a virtual-reality element that simulates training a dog supplement it all. And, of course, you can take it with you, rounding out your visit in a tiny shop that sports quite a selection of stuffed-animal dogs, dog-related books, dog-themed apparel and accessories — you get the idea.
Even the introduction to this tribute to all things canine starts before you enter the museum. A glance over the main, 40th Street entrance brings a video screen — complete with scampering dogs — into view, while large windows showcase the introductory galleries of this museum housed in the same soaring building as the AKC headquarters.
As we walked into the light-filled space on a recent afternoon, a young visitor rushed ahead of her family into the gift shop, turning to her father and practically shrieking “Ooh, Daddy, look,” first pointing at the stuffed animals then to her own dog-themed sweatshirt.
Clearly, there’s an enthusiasm for this new venture, as executive director Alan Fausel would momentarily reinforce, telling us the response since the opening, some 16 days before our visit, was “off the charts.”
At that point, the tally of museum visitors had already doubled the last year’s total at its former location. The New York unveiling was timed to coincide with February’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, giving the new venture a built-in audience for its opening days. The move to New York was actually a return to the museum’s roots, as it first opened here in 1982 and operated for some four years on Madison Avenue before moving to the suburbs of the Missouri city for a run that ended in 2017.
The move back East, it seems, was a smart one and something making Fausel proud.
“We’ve done a really first-rate job,” he said, but it goes beyond the surroundings. “What’s important is we really have one of the best collections of dog paintings in the world.”
And Fausel should know, since the former art-museum curator is also a veteran of the appraisal/auction world. For nearly 20 years, he conducted the annual “Dogs in Art” sale for London-based Bonhams and has served as an appraiser on the PBS hit “Antiques Roadshow” since its debut.
Fausel walked us through the museum, pausing to share points of interest. He touched on the tale of a beloved (and brave) Yorkshire Terrier with ties to World War II and pointed out a quirky photograph featuring those classic Weimaraners by William Wegman. He paused to explain the poignant backstory of Maud Earl’s “Silent Sorrow,” a 1910 painting of King Edward VII of England’s beloved Wire Fox Terrier, and also discussed the origins of one of the museum’s most unexpected displays, the skeleton of a 19th-century dog that holds court within the popular library space.
The staircase linking the floors, adjacent to elevators, is flanked by a soaring vitrine filled with dog figurines — many realistic, others downright hilarious in costume and pose.
“I remember looking over this mezzanine saying this can rival any European gallery of objects,” Fausel noted of the popular attraction. “Ceramics and bronzes have always been part of the dog world, the dog-collecting world.”
The space also overlooks the AKC-TV studio, guarded by an oversize dog figure fashioned out of wire hovering above. Another eye-catching element is the pair of what appear to be life-size Harlequin Great Danes from the Rosenthal Porcelain Factory.
Throughout, there are many points of entry, as Fausel noted, “We have things from the serious to the playful.”
The first formal exhibition, “For the Love of All Things Dog,” continues through June 30 and will give way to future explorations.
“This is an opportunity to really do some creative things,” he said.
Fausel himself is a longtime dog owner, with his family now owning a Welsh Springer Spaniel after losing its 14-year-old English Springer Spaniel.
But it’s perhaps another English Springer Spaniel that museum visitors may connect with.
In what seemed to sum up the heart of the museum are the words of Barbara Bush, the late first lady of the United States. There’s a hand-signed letter, sent on stationery from The White House, framed and displayed alongside a painting of Millie, her and President George H.W. Bush’s beloved English Springer Spaniel. It was sent to commemorate the museum’s opening in St. Louis. Though written nearly 30 years ago, her words still resonate:
“Dogs have enriched our civilization, and woven themselves into our hearts and families through the ages, and I am delighted to see them acknowledged in this way. Dogs help us with law enforcement and help the blind to see; some protect us, others entertain us, and they all return the love they are given tenfold… Animals, especially dogs, have a way of bringing out the warmth and humor in most people, and I am so glad they have always been a part of my family.”
The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog is open Tuesdays through Sundays at 101 Park Ave. in Manhattan. For more, visit museumofthedog.org.