Widow struggles to keep Vt. artist's legacy alive - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Widow struggles to keep Vt. artist's legacy alive

St. Johnsbury, Vermont - July 26, 2011

Tucked In the rolling hills of St. Johnsbury, artists Gwendolyn Huneck and her late husband, Stephen, crafted their dream 10 years ago.

"It's pretty cool," said Bethany Holmes, a visitor from England. "I have not seen anything like that either, it's really beautiful here."

It's a 150-acre retreat for people and their pets called Dog Mountain.

"His legacy should carry on even though he's passed away and I think it is sort of my duty to do that," Gwendolyn Huneck said.

Stephen Huneck was one of the state's most commercially successful artists, which led to this landmark. He took his own life a year and a half ago. Now that legacy is in jeopardy. Dog Mountain has been hit hard by a tough economy. For Gwendolyn Huneck it's meant a $50,000 bill for back taxes. She's worked out a payment plan with the town but worries the park, art gallery and dog chapel could still be lost.

"I really like the chapel," Holmes said. "They've got stained glass windows all the way around with pictures of dogs in them instead of people and words like love and hope and trust on them."

"The remembrance wall which started out as one wall in the foyer is now, the whole chapel is covered three or four layers deep with messages of love from people who have lost animals," Gwendolyn Huneck said.

People like 11-year old Anya Sonwaldt who came to visit on a camp field trip and shared a note about her old dog.

"I wrote down her name and I wrote I love you next to it," she said.

A simple gesture with lasting impact.

"I have a lot of fun memories and I don't want to forget them," Sonwaldt said.

Huneck is selling her late husband's prints to help pay the back taxes; so far she has raised about half of what she needs.

"Just being surrounded by his artwork makes you feel good, because he consciously tried to put love and healing into his artwork to help raise people's spirits," she said.

But now it may be Huneck's spirits that need to be raised the most. Surrounded by the art of the man she loved, the vision they shared, and the generosity of others, she's hopeful she can save this special place.

"All the outpouring of love from people for me, for Stephen, for Dog Mountain, it keeps my spirits up," she said.

Huneck wonders if it will be enough to keep her doors open.

Huneck has agreed to pay her back taxes to St. Johnsbury by November. If that does not happen her property could be put up as a tax sale.

Click here for more on Dog Mountain.

Keith McGilvery - WCAX News

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