Here is a favorite Gordon Setter Head Study photographed in black and white to analyze values. This trick enables me to judge the values without the colors influencing my critique of the work in progress. This process brought back memories of my first Gordon Setter, Sam. When Sam first came to live with me in the spring of 1994, I didn’t know how much he would take over my life and my heart. I got him as a puppy at forty-nine days old just as the author Walters, who wrote the book Gun Dog suggested. Sam went everywhere with me. I had an old shooting vest and I carried him in the game bag for the first month. If I went into the store, he came along with me and captured the hearts of everyone who saw him. His training started on day one. He was on birds by late August and in the field hunting grouse by September. Our first hunt was in Northern Minnesota where I am certain God lives. Sam, of course, ran far ahead and would report back about all the birds I should have seen. He was my first gun dog, so I think I had more learning to do than him. Eventually, however, he learned in spite of me to hold a good point. We spent every day possible in the field chasing pheasants, woodcock, and grouse in the northern states.
Sam was comical in everything he did, at least in my eyes. He would sit in my studio chair if I got up. Perhaps he did this to keep it warm, I never knew, but it was a habit of his that I found endearing. One day, I ran into town and left him home alone. When I returned, every bit of flooring and furniture was covered in multi-colored footprints and brush strokes. Sam had gone into the studio and chewed on about $100 worth of acrylic paint. He was a mess with paint all over him. It wasn’t toxic, however, and for a few days, we had multi-colored piles of rainbows in the backyard as if a Play-Doh fun factory was set loose.
When Sam turned three years old, a friend wanted to take me fly-fishing in Rochester, Minnesota. It was only about two hours from where I lived, so I said I would go but had to come home before seven to let Sam out. He thought we could camp there for the night and leave Sam to be looked after by his wife. I had never been away from Sam before but thought nothing would go wrong. We went fishing and got into some pretty good hatches that day. The next evening we returned during a thunderstorm. My friend’s garage door was open and his wife was standing there crying. He got out of the car to find out what the problem was, and that is when I learned that Sam was lost. I don’t really remember how it happened, but she had lost Sam. I never saw Sam again. Of course, flyers went up, doors were knocked on and people kept an eye out but I wasn’t one of the lucky ones in this story.
I wanted to write a story about my first Gordon Setter, and at this point, I really don’t know what else to say. Sam was lost, and the story never had a proper conclusion. It just kind of hangs there like a missing arm in the sleeve of a civil war veteran. It was sudden and unexpected.
Today, when I see a Gordon Setter, I always think of Sam. He was able to know my thoughts without me saying anything. When we were in the field, he somehow knew to look back at me and wait for the hand signals to know which direction I wanted him to go. He was always ready to ride shotgun in my pickup truck and loved everybody that came across our path. This painting I did goes out to Sam. It was the best I was able to give to a painting at the time, and I hope you will see a deep devotion and affection emanating from the dog in this painting.