- Matthew Thorsen
- Marilene Luxton-Jones
When approaching the entrance to the Luxton-Jones Gallery in Shelburne, you should not be alarmed by the chorus of barking that’s sure to erupt. You may be stopping in to look at paintings, or to have a work of art framed, but first you have to get past Femke, Fenny, Wietske, Wiebe and Willemina.
Don’t worry; the dogs will calm down soon enough. Proprietor Marilene Luxton-Jones checks the canine comfort level of her visitor before taking down the gate that separates the gallery from the rest of her home. After some friendly leaping and sniffing, the animals settle on the floor, creating a scene worthy of a painting: sun streaming in through a pair of picture windows, illuminating the white and black fur of snoozing dogs in a room full of ornate gold frames surrounding lush landscapes.
Oh, right. The art. Luxton-Jones, who is celebrating her gallery’s 25th anniversary this year, shows primarily landscape paintings by New England artists. “It needs to be representational,” she says. Why? That’s what she likes. “I have a very hard time selling work I don’t like,” she says. “I’m a bad salesperson in that way.”
The Netherlands native came to Shelburne by way of Houston, Texas, where she began framing in 1979. What started as a hobby — she and her then-husband had a large collection of antique prints they wanted to hang on their walls — gradually evolved into a business.
“At some point I got so sick of Houston — and the husband,” says Luxton-Jones with a smile. She had a close friend in Vermont and loved the state, “because it was as opposite [to] Houston as anything I could imagine,” she says. Plus, she felt confident her framing business could stand up to the local competition. “No one was doing French matting at the time,” she says.
In 1986, Luxton-Jones found a small ranch house directly across from the entrance to the Shelburne Museum on Route 7. “It was the pits when I got here,” she recalls. But she had a vision. Over the years, she transformed the dingy garage into a gallery in front and framing shop in the back, and planted gardens wherever she could get her hands in the dirt.
Then, at an art show about 14 years ago, she fell in love with a painting by an artist named Carolyn Walton, a one-time Vermonter who now lives in Maine. “She was not well known at all,” says Luxton-Jones, who bought the painting and offered Walton gallery representation. These days, Walton’s oil paintings of New England scenes fill most of the wall space in the gallery, as well as in the adjoining home.
“I love her palette, her sense of color, and her clouds are incredible,” says Luxton-Jones. “I love living with her work.”
That first Walton painting, which depicts a small, white house tucked in a rural landscape, hangs in Luxton-Jones’ living room. Showing off the artwork, she apologizes that her dogs have “beaten up” the room a little. When one of them brings in a mauled pollywog and drops it on the carpet, Luxton-Jones calmly scoops it up and throws it away. Then she eases back into talking about Walton’s work.
“Her paintings take me somewhere,” she says. “I want to walk there with my dogs.”
Luxton-Jones has been breeding the Dutch hunting dogs called stabyhoun — which translates from the Frisian, a northern Dutch language, to “stand-by-me dog” — since 2001. There are only about 260 of them in North America, and nearly 10 percent of those are in Chittenden County, in large part because of Luxton-Jones. People visit from all over the country to see the dogs, and she’s been thinking of turning part of her home into a bed-and-breakfast to accommodate them — as well as to supplement what she makes framing. Now in her early sixties, Luxton-Jones says her knees can’t take the kind of all-day standing required for the job.
But the gallery appears to be doing just fine. In addition to Walton’s landscapes, she shows work by painters Gail Bissette, Athenia Schinto, Brenda Myrick, Helene Amses and — her latest find — Charles Townsend. Luxton-Jones displays a collection of miniature prints and watercolors, none more than a few inches tall, in a glass-fronted cabinet. “Sometimes I do them in big, important frames,” she offers playfully. And she still has a huge collection of antique animal and botanical prints, some dating back to the 1700s.
Racks on one counter display the vibrant, beaded necklaces of a friend, Shelburne artist Tineke Russell, who also is Dutch. Luxton-Jones has a special affinity for the dramatic jewelry, which is made with brightly colored, often oversized antique beads, shells and other objects.
When her mother died about six years ago, Luxton-Jones flew back to the Netherlands — and considered staying, she recalls. Her business was struggling in Vermont. While cleaning out her mother’s house, she came across a huge box of costume jewelry. It wasn’t really her style — Luxton-Jones has a more modern look, with round tortoise-shell glasses and a striking, asymmetrical silver watch-bracelet. When she returned to the States, she offered the box to Russell, who had taken up jewelry making after a career as a nurse. Russell reassembled the pieces into new necklaces in rich colors and textures and gave one to Luxton-Jones.
“I hadn’t been focused; I lost my brother the year before. But I put this on,” says Luxton-Jones, fingering the lime-green and turquoise beads in multiple strands around her neck, “and the next day I sold a painting.”
While Luxton-Jones talks, Wietske licks her knee. Luxton-Jones laughs and lifts the dog — which is not small — onto her lap. Wietske sits up like a child, her head flopped back against her owner’s shoulder, her paws dangling in front of her. “I’ve never had a connection like this with a dog before,” she says of Wietske. “She seems to know what I’m feeling before I even wake up in the morning.”
The other pooches don’t seem to mind the favoritism. They nap on the gallery floor, legs occasionally twitching as if they’re bounding down one of Carolyn Walton’s dirt roads in a collective doggie dream.