NEW YORK — Many artists sweat and toil their entire lives to reach the critical success achieved by Tillamook Cheddar.

The Brooklyn-based artist, who goes by Tillie, already has been the subject of nine solo exhibitions, and a film based on her life and work is in development. She recently flew to Amsterdam for the Kunstvlaai 5 contemporary art fair, and a small boutique dedicated to Tillie has just opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

This story first appeared in the June 7, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Not bad for a five-year-old Jack Russell terrier.

“She strikes a nerve,” said her owner and handler, Bowman Hastie, when asked to explain her growing popularity. “It begins with the odd concept of the dog as an artist. And then when people see her, they fall under her spell.”

Tillie, who is named after the Oregon cheese she eats with some regularity, happened upon her unlikely career by accident. While Hastie was writing on a legal pad, the six-month-old puppy jumped up and began scratching on it. He then offered her some carbon paper, providing an outlet for her to express her creativity via scratching, biting and licking. She has been “drawing” ever since, with the help of Hastie, who chooses the background and transfer colors, as well as the scale for her work.

Now, Tillie has spawned something of a movement. Brooklyn hipsters wear sweatshirts and bags emblazoned with her name, and she has legions of fans around the world, especially in Europe. She frequently makes television appearances and seems to bask in the spotlight.

And Tillie’s work doesn’t come cheap. Her creations now sell for about $1,000 each. Those who want a more affordable reminder of Tillie can stop by the boutique where T-shirts bearing her visage, mugs, tote bags and even specially created dog food (which comes with original artwork inside) are sold.

The store, located on Berry Street not far from the hip stretch of boutiques on Bedford Avenue, is next door to the Green Gallery, the site of a recent Tillamook show. During a visit to the store, Tillie sat quietly observing the surroundings, perhaps gathering inspiration for her next round of work.

“Unlike most Jack Russells, Tillie is remarkably mellow,” Hastie says. “That is, when she’s not working. Or at the vet’s office.”

— Melanie Kletter

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