Remembering Virginia Perry Gardiner
by Amy Fernandez
We often overlook the multiplicity of amazing enterprises that spring up around shows, and the creativity that is regularly inspired by this constant display of beautiful dogs. G&G Studios has been a familiar presence for more than three decades. A piece by Virginia Perry Gardiner represented the supreme indulgence to celebrate a favorite dog or commemorate a remarkable win. On September 10 Virginia succumbed to her long battle with cancer at age 67. Prized for its quality, craftsmanship, and originality, her work is treasured by collectors around the world. During her varied career she earned recognition and awards as a sculptor, designer, and jeweler.
Born and raised in rural Rhode Island, her passionate interest in animals and art guided her direction in life from a young age. She majored in sculpture at Hartford Art School and became a successful commercial sculptor for companies such as Disney, Nestle, Pillsbury, and Kellogg’s. At Hasbro, she did the prototypes for one of their bestselling toys, GI Joe.
In the mid-1970s, Virginia began creating bronze and pewter dog figurines. One of her earliest loyal clients was Doberman and Pug breeder Helen Gale. “I first met her when I started showing the Dobes in the 1970s. She started out doing Great Dane figurines, then got into Dobermans, and eventually she did all breeds.” Saying that she treasures her collection of Virginia’s Doberman figurines, Gale also encouraged her to do additional breeds, and discovered the painstaking work that went into the process. “When I wanted her to do Pugs she asked me for many reference photos of good dogs.” As a traditionally trained sculptor, Virginia began with a wax model based on the photos. “She was very particular, and wanted us to critique the wax whenever we saw her at shows. Before she cast it, everyone had to agree that she had got it just right and it was something that would appeal to everyone in that breed.” Within a couple of years, Virginia’s figurines were coveted collectibles. “She really captured the essence of a breed.”
Virginia’s 1980 partnership with Ana Goulet allowed her to focus exclusively on her art. Their G&G Studios became best known for custom 14kt and 18kt gold jewelry. “She designed beautiful stuff, and was very much into personally making sure it was exactly what you wanted.” Gale commissioned a gold bracelet featuring Pugs and a Doberman. “It was perfect, exactly what I wanted. I love it.”
G&G ranked among the busiest concessions at shows like Westminster, Boston, and the Thanksgiving cluster in Springfield. “She was very friendly, and people always stopped by to chat with her. She really knew jewelry.” Gale recalls that Virginia often did repairs or appraisals as favors, and admits that “It was sometimes hard not to buy something when you stopped by. You just fell in love with a piece.”
Illness prevented Virginia from attending many shows in recent years and the G&G concession was frequently managed by her partner Ana Goulet. Ana’s son Julien Goulet adds “Virginia never let anyone think she was in pain. She would say ‘give me another pill’ or ‘give me some makeup’, then she would smile and scooter around as if there was no problem. She spent the last six and a half years LIVING, not dying.”
Gale emphasizes that Virginia’s work is treasured, and considers herself even luckier to have known her as a friend. “She had to balance quite a few things in her life. But if she knew you were going through some problems she was always there for you. She was one of the nicest people I ever met in the dog show world.”
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