There are only two people buried here: Henry Barnard and his wife Lucretia. Mr. Barnard was a shoemaker who died in 1853; Mrs. Barnard lived for another 60 years, until 1913. It was Mrs. Barnard who chose this wonderful dog sculpture to mark her husband’s grave. We don’t know much about the Barnards, but we do know quite a bit about the sculptor Henry Dexter, who made the dog.
Henry Dexter grew up in rural New York and Connecticut and apprenticed as a blacksmith. His family was relatively poor, and blacksmithing was a respectable way to make a good living, since farms and other businesses always needed the services of someone who could make and repair tools. Dexter was apparently successful as a blacksmith. His secret dream was to be an artist, though, and after years of waiting, with his family’s blessing, he moved to Boston to study painting with his wife’s uncle, portrait painter Francis Alexander.
Dexter’s artistic career really took off when by chance he tried molding some leftover clay and found he was a better sculptor than painter. Perhaps working in a three-dimensional format, as he had in blacksmithing, came easier to Dexter than painting on a flat surface. Whatever the reason, because there were so few professional sculptors working in Boston at the time—most of them had gone to Italy for their training and professional careers, something Dexter was not interested in doing—Dexter soon became one of the best-known sculptors around.
He and Alpheus Cary (the maker of the Simon Willard monument at Forest Hills) collaborated on the first famous American-made cemetery figure sculpture, the Binney Memorial of 1840 at Mount Auburn, a statue of a sleeping child that no longer exists. The success of that sculpture helped Dexter become famous. Soon he was receiving all kinds of commissions, including one from the famed British writer Charles Dickens, who sat for his portrait bust in Boston during his visit to America in 1842.
By the time Mrs. Barnard needed to purchase a monument for her husband’s grave, Henry Dexter was a well-known Boston sculptor. There is no record in Dexter’s papers of a commission from Mrs. Barnard, so it is likely that she purchased something “off-the-shelf” which pleased her. Dogs were popular subjects for garden statuary, as well as for grave monuments; there are a number of other stone dogs at Forest Hills.
Loyal dogs since ancient times guarded their master’s graves, protecting their masters and keeping them company. If you know your classical mythology, you’ll remember that Argus was the faithful dog who waited 20 long years for his beloved master Ulysses to return, and who was the only creature to recognize Ulysses upon his arrival. And, of course, even today many of us love dogs as “man’s best friend.”
The Barnard dog represents one of the most popular Victorian dog breeds, the Newfoundland, a large-size dog that was extremely gentle and good with children. In the 19th century, pets were increasingly becoming part of the family. Along with St. Bernard dogs—with which Newfoundlands were often bred—these two large dog breeds dominated children’s tales of dog rescues. Dogs were often depicted in cozy scenes of daily family life. Fun fact: the family dog in Peter Pan, "Nana," was a Newfoundland.
If you come to our annual Dog Walk, held in October when live dogs of all shapes and sizes visit their favorite sculptures, including the Barnard dog, you might meet a real Newfoundland!
Proceed to the next stop, the Lucy Bixby Monument.
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