The 2013 Sunflower Cluster, which opens tomorrow, April 4, in Valley Center, Kan., has a host of activities that accompany its four all-breed shows and numerous specialties, but perhaps the most innovative of these offerings is the Art Show at the Dog Show, now in its 27th year.

Art Show at the Dog Show is a juried fine arts competition that focuses solely on canine art. Awards are made in categories ranging from paintings, pastels, drawings and prints to photography and sculpture. It is a competition unlike any in the country, and perhaps the world, yet when it began no one really knew it would last more than a quarter century. “I’m sure none of us involved in the early days of the show had any idea that it would last as long as it has, or that it would grow to the point it has,” says Joe Miller, who first conceived the competition and served as its chairman for the first 10 years.

The 2013 Best of Show award went to Yvonne Sovereign’s “Whippet Waiting,” oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of Art Show at the Dog Show.

Joe was a member of the Wichita Kennel Club, its former delegate to the American Kennel Club and the show chairman for its 50th year anniversary event in 1987. “Joe had this great idea that we should create a show that would offer artists who produced dog-related pieces the opportunity to exhibit their work in a show devoted exclusively to canine art,” says Pat Deshler, who now runs the art show with fellow club member Liz Cowman. Entries for the first show came from all over the United States, and the first Best in Show winner was from Florida. Entries from Canada began to arrive within the first few years, and before they knew it the competition had become international.

“It really surprised me when we received entries from other countries,” Joe says, “considering the difficulty with customs and, of course, the expense of shipping accepted works to Wichita.” And receiving one-of-a-kind artwork from all over the country, never mind the world, can in itself create challenges. “I recall one particular incident where we could track a shipment to Washington D.C., but no further. We finally did locate it, and it arrived in time for the show, but there were some anxious moments for both the artist and the sponsors!”

The 2013 competition drew entries from Italy, England and Canada, in addition to the United States. Artists whose work is devoted to dogs appreciated the competition from the start, as evidenced by the fact that the first show drew more than 300 entries and each year since then has drawn at least that many. Most of the artists enter multiple pieces. For the 2013 competition, more than 100 artists submitted works and about 80 were invited to show.

Judges for each year’s event are selected for their general artistic knowledge as well as their knowledge of dogs, and each year’s Best in Show-winning artist is a juror the following year. “It’s nice to have the dog knowledge so that they can say, ‘That doesn’t look quite right,’ so far as a particular breed representation is concerned,” Joe says, “and of course we need someone who understands the artistic process and can relate to the effort required of the various media, and the level of expertise achieved in a particular work.”

Category winners for 2013, from left to right: First Place Drawing, “Sunday Morning,” by Carole Doerr; First Place Other Media, “Relaxed Fit Wrangler,” by Jim Eckman; First Place Watercolor, “Sunshine Boys,” by Dianne Howard; Walter Bebout Memorial Award and First Place Pastel, “Adoration,” by Elizabeth Corbett; First Place Print, “Boston Brahmin,” by Blair Boudreau; Purina Award and First Place Sculpture, “Reality Check,” by Patricia Davis; First Place Photography, “Snow Plow,” by Heidi Marcinik. Photo courtesy of Art Show at the Dog Show.

Judging of works accepted for the show each year, of course, takes place in Wichita. All different breeds and types of dogs, involved in all manner of activities, are represented every year in the dozens of pieces in the show. As Pat notes, the artwork selected for the competition each year “will showcase the animated, lively and unique nature of a diverse set of breeds.” Along with traditional artistic media such as oil painting, pencil and clay sculpture, dogs depicted in textiles, wood and metal were also entered this year.

The 2013 Art Show at the Dog Show was on display at two venues in downtown Wichita, City Arts and the Century II Concert Hall’s Foyer Gallery, prior to being moved to a special display area on the dog show grounds for the duration of the Sunflower Cluster. Each year the Best in Show winning piece is purchased by the Sunflower Cluster and donated to the AKC Museum of the Dog.

Of course, all of the manpower that goes into putting on the Art Show at the Dog Show is performed on a volunteer basis. Although the show was his idea, Joe offers kudos to the two women he recruited to help him with the show more than 20 years ago. “Much of the credit for both its longevity and the success has to go to Pat and Liz, who have been involved since day one and have continued to guide and manage the show,” he says. “Without them, I fear, it would have ceased to exist long ago.” They started out by taking entries and doing whatever other tasks needed to be done, and since Joe stepped down as chairman more than a dozen years ago have kept the show running.

“Dachshund,” a bronze sculpture by Joy Beckner, was a past Best of Show winner at Art Show at the Dog Show, and is now at the AKC Museum of the Dog. Photo courtesy of AKC Museum of the Dog. 

In addition to Pat and Liz’s hard work and determination, Joe notes that the success of the show can also be attributed to the artists themselves. “To my way of thinking one of the main reasons the show has been so successful is related to the high quality of the artwork that is entered each year,” he says. “We have been very fortunate to have some of the most talented canine artists in the country submit their works. Without them, there would be no show.” Fiscal support and award donations are also crucial. “Another important component of our success is the continued financial support we’ve received from our sponsors, some of whom have been with us since the beginning.” This year’s sponsors and patrons include Purina, the Wichita, Hutchinson and Salina Kennel Clubs, the Wichita Dog Training Club and numerous additional clubs, individuals and businesses.

Seeing the beautiful, whimsical and moving 2013 entries and winners is well worth a trip to the Sunflower Cluster shows, but for everyone who is unable to attend in person, you can view them them at the Art Show at the Dog Show website. Many of the pieces are also offered for sale.