Distinguished portrait artist June Allard-Berte has added a new dimension to her repertoire: pet portraits.
She decided to make pets a serious part of her work after being impressed by an exhibit of original paintings and drawings of dogs.
The Springfield, Mass., native has been spending winters here for some 18 years. She has a studio in a quiet Belleair Bluffs neighborhood and is in the process of settling here permanently.
Two weeks ago, she was working on what she described as "an experiment" in pet portraiture. On her easel was her Jack Russell terrier, Junior, garbed in the colorful clothing of a Scottish nobleman.
"This is my first venture into the old English style of painting dogs in the attire of the military, judges and aristocrats of the time," she said. She hopes its playful format may appeal to some clients.
The artist completed a more serious work last month for friend and restaurant co-owner Maggie Juneau of West Wareham, Mass.
Juneau's beloved 10-year-old black and tan German shepherd, Baron, died of cancer in May. Right away Juneau set about gathering family photographs for Allard-Berte of the pet she said had weighed nearly 130 pounds and thought he was a lapdog.
The painting of Baron hangs inside the front door of the family home. "I talk to that painting every time I pass it," Juneau said. "It has such life to it."
"He's just kind of standing with that 'Okay, what are we doing?' look on his face," she said. "I can honestly say when I look at that painting, June nailed it. I feel like I'm looking right into his eyes. It's like he's still here.
"I'm so glad I had it done," Juneau said. "It's really him."
Anna Cooke, editor of the popular Tampa Bay area New Barker magazine, chose Allard-Berte's oil painting of a border collie for last summer's cover story.
"We received the most e-mail response ever from that cover," said Cooke.
When she visited Allard-Berte's studio, she said she could "feel the creativity." She noticed that the artist was finishing a portrait of a little girl and her horse. "It looked so real, like they were in the room," she recalled.
The painting had been commissioned by Steve and Noel McDonell of Tampa.
Noel McDonell, who first came to admire Allard-Berte's work two decades ago, told her husband she wanted a portrait by the artist of their daughter Grace for a Christmas present.
On Christmas morning 2007 she found a small portrait under the tree, a rough sketch of a possible portrait by Allard-Berte.
After that, the artist visited the couple's home and met Grace, who is 9 and a serious equestrian competitor, and her first horse, an American saddlebred named She's a Peach.
The finished portrait, showing Grace dressed for competition and standing in front of a painting of the horse, was completed last summer.
When she first saw it, Noel McDonell said, "It choked me up. I appreciate that it looks like Grace, but that it also captures her personality so well."
The large portrait takes up a wall in the family's formal living room. "We absolutely love it," McDonell said. "It's my most prized material possession."
Allard-Berte studies her subjects intently, human and animal alike, to learn everything she can before facing a canvas.
"I spend a lot of time thinking and looking," she said, "then I compose and draw them. I draw first to see how it will look on the size canvas the client has chosen. I spend a whole day of drawing before I start to lay on a wash of color and start my oils. I have a very strong composition background and so many years of painting that I make very few mistakes early on."
Before turning her talent full-time to portraiture, Allard-Berte was a commercial illustrator, creating art assignments for such magazines as Time, Life, Sports Illustrated and Good Housekeeping, as well as book covers and ads for newspapers and fashion illustrations for such upscale stores as Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Her paintings are included in the collections of individuals, corporations, colleges, museums and churches. Her work is also featured in the instructional art books of Lewis Lehrman.
Christina K. Cosdon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.