A Jack Russell Terrier Named Tillamook Cheddar Proves That Dogs Can Be Artists, Too

We interview the owner of "Tillie," who has had 20 solo exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe.

Last Updated on May 20, 2015 by

Tillamook Cheddar (also known as Tillie) is a Jack Russell Terrier from Brooklyn.

Looking at Tillie, she appears just as any 14-year-old Terrier would -– adorable, lively, and very precious. However there is something special about Tillie; she has had 20 solo exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. She also has an official biography titled Portrait of the Dog as a Young Artist and plans to embark on a cross country tour to showcase her artwork.

She carries an artistic resume that many of us have only dreamed of achieving. But what makes Tillie so special? We sat down with Tillie’s owner, Bowman Hastie to talk about Tillie’s artistic style, her first exhibition, and her forthcoming documentary and U.S. tour.

Dogster: How did Tillie come into your life?

Bowman Hastie: Tillie was a gift from my mother on my 30th birthday. I got her from a breeder named Sharon Kress at Kress Country Terriers in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she was born to a mother named Briarpatch Winnie and a father named Nadua Nitro. I met Tillie when she was about three weeks old, picked her out from a litter of six pups, and then brought her home to Brooklyn seven weeks later.

How long was it until you realized Tillie had this creative gift? As a puppy, did she show signs of creativity?

Well, there was one incident when Tillie was very young and still being paper-trained. I was taking a nap and woke up to a surprise that she had left for me on the kitchen floor, just beside the newspaper. It had a startlingly human-like form, so much so that I took a picture, which I titled “Poop Man.”

Can you share your first experience with Tillie creating art?

When Tillie was just a few months old, I was sitting on my couch, writing with a pen on a yellow legal pad. Tillie climbed onto the couch, clambered onto my lap, and began scratching — in a sort of digging motion — at the very piece of paper on which I was writing. I interpreted her actions as a desire to make marks, and had the idea of using carbon paper to record her markings. Luckily I had some carbon paper in my apartment, so I was able to immediately take her cue.

I fetched a piece of carbon paper, brought it back to the couch, slipped it under one of the pages of the legal pad, and held it for Tillie to resume her scratching. Without hesitation she went right back to digging/scratching on the pad, and kept at it for several minutes. During her first pause in the action, I lifted the top sheet of paper and the carbon paper to reveal Tillie’s first drawing (Untitled No. 1).

Do you create art as well? Do Tillie and you ever collaborate?

I have no formal training or experience as a visual artist myself. However, on many levels I consider the work I do with Tillie to be a collaboration between the two of us. She makes all the marks, but there’s a lot work I have to do, too, in addition to the many decisions I am forced to make regarding her work. Plus she’s terrible on the phone, and can’t use email!

What are some of the past collaborations Tillie has worked on?

We mounted a big exhibition at the National Arts Club in 2012 called “Collarobations,” which featured collaborative works created by Tillie working individually with 25 different artists, including Tom Sachs, Jon Kessler, Dirk Westphal, Andrew Kromelow, Diane Dwyer, and Ricardo Cortés.

Since then Tillie has had an ongoing collaboration with a group of jazz musicians on a project we call Tillie Jazz. The Tillie Jazz band includes Bill McHenry (saxophone), Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Dred Scott (piano), and RJ Miller (drums). Other musicians who have played jazz with Tillie include bassist Neal Miner, vocalist Sasha Dobson, and the drummer Jochen Rueckert. Tillie Jazz consists of Tillie making a painting in front of an audience, accompanied by a live jazz band. It’s one of the most bizarre activities I’ve ever been a part of.

Has the artistic process that she works with now developed over the years of her working?

While Tillie still uses the same basic techniques as when she started, the evolution of her early work is tied to the development and refining of the materials she uses. We have gone from using carbon paper on plain white paper, to using a sort of homemade transfer paper that consists of non-toxic oil stick on vellum, with a piece of mylar on the outside, to make the “canvas” more durable.

The paint is transferred as a monoprint to a watercolor block that receives the marks. The work has definitely changed over the years, but since I am so close to it, I have not really paid a great deal of attention to the progression of the work itself. I’d rather leave that to the Tillie art scholars. I have noticed, however, that since the beginning of this year, Tillie rarely ever uses her teeth, which used to be a principle and signature element of her style. Now she almost exclusively employs her paws, delivering her claw strokes in a more circular and uniform fashion than she has in the past.

Tillie had puppies, and I’ve learned that her son remains with the two of you, but currently shows no signs of following her artistic footsteps. Is there any word that pups from the rest of the litter have showed the same artistic creativity as their mother?

Doc Chinook Strongheart Cheddar, the Tillie son who never left home, has not shown signs of following in Tillie’s footsteps as a painter — I’ve given Doc plenty of chances to work alongside Tillie, but he just doesn’t seem to get it. That’s not to say Doc is without gifts. His artistic inclinations just lean more toward the aforementioned “Poop Man” — and I’m not sure the world is ready yet.

Doc has a brother named Grandpaw who “sings” on a regular basis, but not professionally. Tillie’s other kids are all amazing and unique in ways that are different and less public than their mother’s talents.

What sparked the inspiration to take Tillie on tour?

The biggest inspiration behind the Tillie Tip to Tail Tour, aside from Tillie herself, is Andrew Kromelow, director of modification and modernization for the Tillie Mobile Unit. A few years Andrew suggested I build some sort of special art caravan for Tillie and take it across the country, making art along the way. I took him up on it, and conscripted him to help me build it.

We will be documenting our trip across the continent with a video crew, and that footage will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive feature-length documentary about Tillie and her art career.

What do you hope is translated to an audience that watches Tillie create?

I didn’t have an agenda when I began to follow Tillie on this unexpected life path, and I still don’t, except perhaps to pose the question, “Why can’t a dog be an artist?” I think when someone sees Tillie in action, then they will have a very hard time answering that question. When people watch Tillie create her art, I hope they can deepen their understanding that passion and ingenuity exist within all of us, including humans.

Anyone interested in Tillie, her work, or her forthcoming tour can check out the Tillamook Cheddar Kickstarter or visit www.tillamookcheddar.com.

About the Author

Shopping Cart