It’s not surprising that artist/author/filmmaker William Wegman, 69, was surrounded by his beloved Weimaraner dogs -- Bobbin, Candy, Flo and Topper -- while doing a phone interview last week from New York about “Flo & Wendell” (Dial: $16.99, ages 3-6). It's his first children’s book in a decade.
Although he’s received acclaimed for his paintings and his short films, Wegman is best known for his portraits of his Weimaraner dogs, whom he presents as human characters replete with hair, clothing and props. His first superstar model was May Ray, who died in 1981, followed by Fay Ray and her offspring Battina, Crooky, Chundo, Chip, Bobbin and Penny.
His latest dogs, Flo and Topper, are the stars of “Flo and Wendell,” which follows the adventures the two adorable puppies. It deviates from his previous children’s book format because it combines the puppies’ photographs with watercolor paintings.
Wegman’s previous children’s books include “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Mother Goose” and “Chip Wants a Dog”; “Man’s Best Friend” and “Fashion Photographs” are among his best-selling adult books. Every year, his fans wait in anticipation for his Weimaraner puppy calendar.
Why has it been a decade since you have done a children’s book?
I have multiple interests. I paint and then when I get into a dead end, I stop doing that for a while. Sometimes I am making films and videos and doing other things….
It could have also been my cast -- my dogs. It’s very exhausting and a little bit strange to be building sets and making these human figures [out of dogs] and doing the kind of stories I was doing with my last batch [of books].
This new one came about because I have been painting so much and continuing to photograph the puppies … for my calendars. Because I had been painting, I thought of adding paint [to the mix].
Where do you get the Weimaraner puppies?
A couple of breeders that I am very close to, whenever they have a litter they come to New York -- one from Virginia and one from the Syracuse area -- and I photograph these puppies. They end up being in the calendar or whatever because it’s so fun and euphoric to photograph puppies.
May Ray, who died in 1981 at the age of 12, was your first Weimaraner and model. How did you pick that breed?
Frankly, my first wife wanted a dog. The deal was when we moved to L.A. from Wisconsin, where I had been teaching, we would get a dog. She liked shorthair dogs. We saw Weimaraners advertised for $35 in Long Beach and that is what he cost me.
I got him at six weeks rather than the recommended eight to 12 weeks and he thought he was a person. He really attached himself to me, and I would just bring him to my studio where I was trying to figure out how to do video and photos at the time. I think he got fascinated with my tinkering with the equipment. He was very, very interested in helping me out.
Are Weimaraners easier to pose than other breeds?
I have photographed all breeds for various reasons. Usually, eventually, I can get them to have fun doing it. I think dogs like people usually and they liked to be engaged. But Weimaraners are so still. They point and retrieve. The fact that they are gray is something I revel in.
In the short film on your website about the book, you say that Flo is an exceptional model.
One of my dogs, Penny, the daughter of Bobbin and Candy, had lymphoma and was having chemo treatments. We got Flo to cheer Penny up. I was working on a National Geographic cover with Penny and I put Flo right next to Penny, but right out of the picture so she would think she was working too. I think she got really attached to the idea of the studio and the strobe lights and the attention.
When Penny died, she took over that role as the being the main model. She likes it so much that when I am not using her, I have put her on a pedestal next to the dog I am working with.