Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Worth A Thousand Words

 by Randy Lawrence

("Not This Trip, Old Pal" - Arthur Davenport Fuller)

In the game bird barrens of southeastern Ohio, the occasional Elhew pointer that runs with my setters always gets a second look from the locals.  If I had a dollar for every time I've heard over the past 36 years, "That's one fine looking Walker hound,"...well... we could vacation more often where there are more often birds to hunt.

The setters?  "That's a birddog, ain't it?" 

American sporting artists from the advent of the breech-loading shotgun to the final quarter of the 20th century, understood that.  When they set out to illustrate an ad with a bird hunting theme for everything from cigarettes to beer to gunpowder to war bonds, the dogs they drew were setters - brawny black and tan Gordons, heavily feathered Irish reds, and always, always, always - English setters.  Folks who didn't know a grouse from  a guinea hen knew that setters were bird dogs.

If you were a young New Hampshire man, born right after a most uncivil Civil War, and fishing and bird shooting were your passions, your folks might send you to Harvard, they might sigh and indulge your forever doodling by shipping you to the Fenway School of Illustration in Boston, then the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts...but in the end, they did the public a great favor, providing one Arthur Davenport Fuller an excuse to make a reputation and a solid living out of drawing the outdoors.   His may not have ever been a household name, but his artwork was in households around the globe, with his illustrations appearing in Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and Field and Stream.

Those too old to be drafted into the First World War, talented men like Arthur Fuller, could do their part making posters to encourage those marching off to the trenches of Europe.  The good-byes said would, for a sporting gent or lady, have to include one’s best hunting partner, as Fuller painted in the lithograph that begins this blog post.

If there were good-byes, then for the fortunate servicemen and women who made it back home, there would be the most joyous of homecomings, including maybe a litter of pups bred while Master or Mistress was fighting for freedom.

(Surprise Party":  Arthur Davenport Fuller)

Once home, there would be tales to tell, even somewhat macabre trophies "bagged in France" to share with the girl and the English setter left behind.  The lithograph below was one of the many Fuller pieces that Hercules Powder used singularly or with calendars.

An illustrator's stock in trade is the cliche, and Fuller's '50's  and '60's era hunters came complete with pipe, a ball cap, Stormy Kromer, or fedora, the necktie or a shirt buttoned to the neck...and of course an English setter.  For the luckiest ones, maybe it was a brace...with an Irish cousin thrown in for good measure.

("Let's Go!")

Another Fuller commission for Hercules gunpowder and blasting caps was surely meant for cringe-worthy humor, but makes all who have nightmares of a gun shy gun dog more than a little squeamish.

For Fuller and his readers at Field and Stream, woodcock were odd little tricksters, the wingshooter's knuckleball, spiraling up out of the woods floor to make fools of even the most seasoned gunners.

Just as the English setter has been popularly synonymous for "bird dog", "pheasant" was America's Gamebird for much of the 20th century.  Fuller’s rooster boosters were generally Springer Spaniels, but in this instance, he couldn't help himself, putting an Irishman and a Scotsman on the case for this ringneck on the rise.

For variety, having a Gordon and an Irish setter brace makes perfect sense.  For some of us, so does a "Gotcha!" portrait with a covey of pointers tramping standing corn on the wrong side of a "No Trespassing" sign!

Regardless, for Arthur Davenport Fuller, the sporting life was the life for him.  As illustrator/story teller, that sporting life could only be made more beautiful hunting behind a setter, the People’s notion  of “bird dog."