Winslow's dog, Sam

Have you ever tried to balance yourself on a slippery log in the water? That is what this little black-and-white dog is doing. He doesn't look afraid at all, but as though he realizes it won't be easy to do. Winslow Homer, the great American artist, painted this picture nearly a hundred years ago. Perhaps it is a watercolor of his own dog, Sam.

Sam was his constant companion. He trotted with him everywhere - to the post office each evening to pick up the mail, or to the beach at 4:30 every morning. Because Winslow liked to paint the sea, he went there early to catch the true colors of dawn.

Even if the weather was bitter and stormy that didn't stop him. ``I prefer to paint outdoors,'' he said.

He had a portable studio built, with runners and a glass panel in front, and he used that if he needed protection. Can't you just see Sam sitting in it beside him, watching the waves and the gulls?

Winslow never wanted to be anything but an artist. As a boy in school, he used to fill the margins of his books with drawings.

His first job was with a company that designed covers for sheet music but, when he became 21, he quit. He said he would never work again in anyone else's shop, and he never did.

About that time the Civil War was being fought and he went to the battlefields and did sketches there of soldiers fighting. Because they were so real and true to life, he sold these drawings to Harper's magazine. He became well known. Next he turned to painting with oil on canvas and was again successful. Many people bought his work. His brother, Charlie, purchased his first two paintings. Charlie kept this as a surprise and didn't tell Winslow until many years later.

Then Winslow began to do watercolors. Because of them, he is especially famous. He went to live at Prout's Neck, Maine, in a small cottage that had been made from a stable. There were only two rooms downstairs, one of them nearly filled by a birchbark canoe, and an attic above. A round, fat stove provided the only heat. But the cottage had a balcony with a wonderful view of the sea, and Winslow was completely contented there.

Some people called him a hermit because his only companion was his dog, Sam. He was never lonely, though. In fact, he often didn't answer the door when people came. If the visitors were children, however, he was always glad to see them. He allowed them to sit down and watch him paint if they promised to be quiet and not disturb him.

Sam kept him company for 18 years. They were seldom separated. If Winslow had to go away for some reason, he gave the little girls next door a gold piece to take care of his pet and good friend.

When Sam died, Winslow refused to get another dog to replace him. Maybe, though, on cold winter evenings he felt lonesome. Maybe then he took out the painting of ``Dog on a Log'' and looked at it, feeling as though Sam was still by his side. What do you think?

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