A Passion for Animals

Dogs and wildlife lead a Colorado couple on a fine-art journey

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Mark and Retta Dunn and their four golden retrievers.

Mark and Retta Dunn and their four golden retrievers.

This story was featured in the October 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2013 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

The road leading to the home of Mark and Retta Dunn climbs higher and higher into the Rocky Mountains, eventually leveling out at an altitude of about 8,500 feet before plummeting 500 feet down into a lush green valley. Then a gate comes into view, announcing the entrance to Eagle Bear Ranch. Minutes later, the landscape opens up to reveal two large ponds with a mountain-style log home in the distance. It’s quintessential Rocky Mountains, perfect for a picture postcard.

The first thing a visitor notices is the bronze sculptures of bears and other wild animals playfully sited among the tall grasses and leafy trees—cottonwood, maple, and cherry—that encircle the ponds. Two bronze ducks sit in the middle of one, and a bronze of a beaver perches on a waterfall not far from the Dunns’ front door. The bronze animals, most of which are by Colorado sculptor Stephen LeBlanc, blend seamlessly into the lush natural environment.

The Dunns’ home is nestled in a lush Rocky Mountain valley.

The Dunns’ home is nestled in a lush Rocky Mountain valley.

But the bronzes merely hint at what one finds indoors. Many of the artworks in the 3,800-square-foot home depict creatures great and small, both domestic and wild, reflecting the couple’s abiding love of animals. The animal-themed artwork couldn’t be more appropriate in the rustic home and its pristine surroundings: The Dunns’ 250-acre retreat is nestled deep in a wooded area with few signs of civilization in sight.

The story of the Dunns’ art collection begins unusually, with their fondness for a golden retriever named Utah. One of the first paintings they purchased, in fact, was a portrait of a dog that they discovered in a Colorado pet store. That first acquisition led to more purchases of canine paintings; eventually those purchases were made at art galleries rather than pet stores.

A western painting by Steven Lang hangs in the dining area.

A western painting by Steven Lang hangs in the dining area.

Why dogs? Mark, a commercial real estate investor and developer, and Retta, a canine wellness consultant and trainer, have a shared passion for the four goldens that are part of their family today—Wren, Raz, River, and Canoe. The Dunns raise show dogs, regularly traveling to shows in places like Conyers, GA, and Missoula, MT. Wren and Raz are the primary show dogs these days, while River and Canoe have now entered their “golden” years and are retired from the circuit.

The Dunns’ attraction to paintings of dogs soon blossomed naturally into a fondness for wildlife paintings. In 1990, about a year after their first purchase, they began collecting wildlife pieces by artist Michelle Mara. Today more than 20 works by Mara are sprinkled throughout the home—paintings that depict a menagerie of elk, swans, owls, and fawns. “Our true love of animals guided us,” Mark says. “After the first one, we were hooked.”

A large painting by Ed Kucera hangs above the living room fireplace.

A large painting by Ed Kucera hangs above the living room fireplace.

Their love of animal and wildlife works eventually grew to include landscapes and then, more recently, western-themed works. On a wall in the living room, three small works by Clive Tyler, Lindsey Bittner Graham, and John Fawcett reflect their current taste in subject matter. In the dining room and master bedroom there are additional landscapes and western works by a selection of Colorado- and Texas-based painters, including Anita Mosher, Ed Kucera, Cecy Turner, and Pem Dunn.

The couple has come a long way from their early pet-store art purchases. These days the Dunns are fond of visiting galleries like Evergreen Fine Art in Evergreen, CO. In June they attended the gallery’s annual Weekend in the West show and sale, where they purchased paintings by three artists new to their collection—two florals by Stephanie Birdsall and Kathy Anderson and a landscape by Carol Jenkins. The couple remains interested in bringing new painters and sculptors into their artistic fold.

The Dunns say that as a rule they only purchase works on which they both agree. And fortunately they are in agreement on the basic elements that are important to them in choosing artwork. “We love art that captures our imagination and draws us into a scene like we were really there,” Mark and Retta say.

If they aren’t together when one sees a “must-have” painting or sculpture, they snap photos and email images to each other—at least, they follow that plan most of the time. Mark travels to Scottsdale, AZ, four or five times a year on business. For the past few years he has made a habit of stopping to browse at Legacy Gallery on Scottsdale’s Main Street, and usually he emails images of interest to Retta. But recently, with his solo purchase of CROSS OF THE CONQUISTADORES by Steven Lang, Mark admits that he broke their cardinal rule. Luckily Retta approved of the work once the painting arrived in Colorado, and it now hangs in their dining room.

Wildlife sculpture by Stephen LeBlanc is placed throughout the Dunns’ property.

Wildlife sculpture by Stephen LeBlanc is placed throughout the Dunns’ property.

Over the years the art lovers have become intrepid in their pursuit of works they feel passionate about. Not long ago they attended the annual Old West Show & Auction at Denver’s Merchandise Mart. They bid on a painting but were unsuccessful in acquiring the portrait depicting two Indian girls by Marilyn Bendell. They doggedly tracked down the buyer and discovered that it was Charla Nelson, co-owner of Manitou Galleries in Santa Fe, NM, and Cheyenne, WY, who had purchased the object of their desire. The Dunns contacted Nelson, and soon the trio had agreed on a purchase price. Nelson even agreed to meet the couple along a busy Colorado freeway to personally deliver the artwork while driving home to Cheyenne from Santa Fe.

At the same auction, the Dunns successfully bid on a work by Eric Michaels titled IN THE HOME OF THE MOUNTAIN GODS, which they had seen advertised in Southwest Art. They later purchased five additional pieces by Michaels from Breckenridge Gallery in Breckenridge, CO.

Wildlife sculpture by Stephen LeBlanc is placed throughout the Dunns’ property.

Wildlife sculpture by Stephen LeBlanc is placed throughout the Dunns’ property.

One thing the Dunns enjoy most about collecting art is the opportunity to meet the artists. “Since we plan to keep the artwork for a lifetime, it is wonderful to put faces with the artists’ names and learn about their backgrounds,” Mark says. “It really personalizes our paintings and sculptures. We love the stories that artists tell us. Where were they when they created their pieces? What inspired them? Are there stories behind the pieces? In meeting many of the artists we collect, we are able to learn about the roads they traveled and how they came to create certain pieces.”

As advice to collectors just starting out, the Dunns recommend visiting as many galleries as possible to discover the subject matter and style of work that appeal to them. They also advise new collectors to study art magazines regularly because they, too, can introduce collectors to new artists. Attend art auctions because it’s fun, and because they offer an opportunity to assess prices. And research, research, research, they add. “When we see a painting or sculpture that we like, we search the web for more information and more works by that particular artist,” Mark says.

Their scenic mountain home is quickly filling up with paintings and sculptures, but the couple is not ready to call a halt to their collecting days. They say they will continue to look for works by artists they have previously collected and pursue works by new artists who have caught their eye, such as Roy Andersen, Jim Norton, and Gary Lynn Roberts.

To make a little more room for their ever-expanding collection, the Dunns are building a new doghouse for their golden retrievers. Since they plan to breed goldens in the future, they need a larger space for a few more dogs and to showcase them well. Once the structure is completed, the couple will clear some space in their home by moving their early canine portraits into the new doghouse. In other words, the canine paintings really are going to the dogs!

Featured in the October 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art October 2013 print issue or digital download
Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!


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