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NEW YORK — It all started with a beige pug named Arthur.

The photographer Bruce Weber was doing a spread on Philip Treacy hats for Italian Vogue when he stumbled upon Alannah Weston’s dog and decided to use him in the shoot. “Arthur is an incredible model,” Weber says. “Philip made a little hat for him.”

This story first appeared in the March 11, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In passing conversation about their love of animals — Weber grew up on a farm in small-town Pennsylvania; Weston, with “all kinds of dogs, birds, cats and horses ” — Weber said that he and Nan Bush, his domestic and business partner, have been collecting animal photography since the Seventies. The next thing Weber knew, he was curating an exhibition of his eclectic menagerie — from a Sid Avery shot of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in their kitchen avec chien to a self-portrait of Peter Beard in the mouth of an alligator — for Weston’s gallery at Windsor, a 15-year-old upscale residential community in Vero Beach, Fla.

“Heel to Heal: The Collection of Animal Paintings, Drawings and Photographs of Bruce Weber and Nan Bush” opens this weekend, and the three-day festivities will attract Grace Coddington and Didier Malige, who contributed several cat photos; the Weston family, who own Windsor, and boldface names like Damon Mezzacappa and Sophie Dahl. It also will mark the curatorial debut of Weber, who was a little hesitant to share his personal collection with the entire world.

“I really thought about it for a while before I decided,” he admits. “But the images brought me a lot of joy and I thought I should let other people enjoy them. I think we can learn a lot from the way we interact with animals.”

There are no Weber pieces on display, but the photographer has incorporated animals into his work for years. He used his dogs in a Ralph Lauren campaign and horses in another for Calvin Klein, not to mention what those pesky elephants have done with any number of scantily clad Abercrombie models.

“It’s definitely much easier to work with animals than personalities, that’s for sure,” quips Weber. “A couple of years ago, I was working on an assignment for Interview that involved celebrities and animals. All these film actresses and musicians wanted to be photographed with their dogs. Nobody wanted to be with a zebra, with a chimp or with a frog, and I felt they were really missing out.”

Long before “Monster,” Charlize Theron refused to pose with a camel, first saying she was allergic, and then that she’d been bitten by one as a child. “I was surprised to know that,” Weber says. Ultimately, Christina Ricci, her “Monster” co-star, stepped up to the plate.

As for Arthur — who’s since photographed shot by Mario Testino — he’s become something of a diva. “He’s what I would call the supermodel of dogs,” says Weston. But it’s not in her nature to be a pushy Mama Rose and instead she lets the pug call the shots. “I think it’s like with any mother when you suddenly realize your dog has talent. But Arthur really knows his own mind,” Weston adds. “Bruce says he’s a wonderful model as long as there’s no one else in the photograph.”

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