Not many places can evoke feelings of happiness, whimsy and sadness all at once.
High on a hill in St. Johnsbury, the late illustrator and woodcarver Stephen Huneck created a magical place to celebrate our spiritual connection to dogs. When you visit Dog Mountain, you might find yourself smiling one minute and crying the next.
Stephen Huneck’s Dog Mountain Gallery is located in a renovated farmhouse that features the artist’s woodcut prints, his children’s books, as well as original wood-carved pieces and furniture. But the main attraction is The Dog Chapel next door, which Huneck created and opened in May 2000 that welcomes “all creeds and breeds. No dogma allowed.”
Inside the chapel he built, the walls are covered floor to ceiling with photos of beloved dogs who are dearly missed by their owners. Notes have been left by thousands of visitors who have flocked to the chapel over the past two decades to honor their lost pets (“You made us a family. We love and miss you always.”). The walls are now so packed with remembrances that visitors are encouraged to leave photos inside photo albums placed throughout the chapel.
The gallery and chapel are set on 150 acres with hiking trails, scenic views and dog ponds, which are open to people and their dogs year-round (leashes are optional, of course). Dog Mountain hosts summer and fall Dog Parties, as well a live music performances between July and September in collaboration with Catamount Arts and the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series.
About Stephen Huneck and Dog Mountain
Inside The Dog Chapel in St. Johnsbury.
As a hand-carver, Huneck owned over 150 chisels, 30 hand planes and axes. He carved almost every day, only taking time out to walk with his dogs.
In 1994, he suffered from Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome after falling down a flight of stairs, leaving him in a coma for two months. The prognosis was grim. But with the help of his wife, Gwen, he made a full recovery, relearning how to walk and sign his own name.
After his near-death experience, he had a vision to build the Dog Chapel, later describing it as “the largest artwork of my life and my most personal.” The one-of-a-kind chapel attracts visitors from near and far, and was recently named Best Vermont Attraction by USA Today.
Huneck died by suicide in 2010, and Gwen took her life three years later.
Today, Dog Mountain is run by Friends of Dog Mountain, a non-profit formed in 2015 that is committed to keeping Dog Mountain open as a free, public community asset. The organization is also dedicated to cataloging, restoring and protecting Huneck’s work, and honoring the connection between humans and animals.
Scott Buckingham, executive director of Friends of Dog Mountain, helped the organization receive ownership of the Dog Mountain property, the gallery and much of Huneck’s remaining work in December 2017. The organization hopes to raise Dog Mountain’s stature by growing partnerships and programing while staying true to Huneck’s vision.
“I think Dog Mountain is the happiest place in the world to be sad. It’s a place to honor the special relationships we have with our dogs,” Buckingham says. “For Stephen, losing a pet was extraordinarily sad. But he chose to show that connection we have with dogs and the joy of that connection by making Dog Mountain a celebration of dogs as well as a place for grieving. Ultimately, he wanted to show that dogs, art and nature together can be incredibly healing.”
For more information about Dog Mountain, visit dogmt.com.
A visitor at the Stephen Huneck Gallery at Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury.