“Nobbin” by Miriam Haas
More than a dozen years ago — gosh, it may have been even longer than that — I attended an estate sale in the Cooper-Young area. I don’t remember the address, but I recall the house was little more than a cottage, a cozy bungalow like so many of the others that lined the street.
But once I stepped inside, I entered a fantasyland. Lining the walls, floor to ceiling, were exquisitely painted oil portraits of hundreds and hundreds of dogs. No cats, and no other creatures, as I recall. Just dogs. And on the back of each painting, the artist had neatly written the name of each subject.
This handsome fellow is Nobbin.
The artist’s name, I discovered, was Miriam Haas, though somebody else told me her last name was “Hans.” I have no idea how she spent the earlier years of her life, but at the age of 60 or older, so I was told, she enrolled at Memphis College of Art and learned to paint. After a few classes, she embarked on what must have been her life’s mission: to portray every single pet in her neighborhood. I say “pet” because otherwise how would she have known each dog’s name?
As you can see, the paintings are extremely well-done, painted on little 8 x 10 canvas boards, and then Miriam took the time to frame each one very neatly. They are really quite lovely, just by themselves, but when you see hundreds of them, filling every inch of available wall space, the effect is astonishing.
I was told that Miriam was still painting at the time of her death, in her mid-90s! But what puzzles me about all this is: Why were so many pet portraits still in her house? Did she never sell any of them, or even give them away to the pets’ owners? And what was the process? How did she persuade little Nobbin, for example, to pose so regally for her?
The paintings were only $20 or so the first day of the estate sale, and I bought two or three. The next day, when everything was half-price, I went back and bought perhaps three more, and they are presently on display in the Mansion. Now, looking back, I wish I had purchased every single one of them.
There’s a mystery here. I’d like to know more about this woman, and find out what inspired — perhaps compelled is a better word — to paint all these wonderful pet portraits. If anybody knew her, or knew anything about her, please let me know.