Bigfork Gallery Hosts Yappy Hour

By Beacon Staff

While it is not uncommon for photographers to have muses, one expects these founts of inspiration to be lanky über models rather than four-legged rambunctious canines.

Yet Lauren Grabelle has found inspiration in Sugar, her 5-year-old Weimaraner and preferred subject of choice.

In April, Grabelle and Sugar moved from New Jersey to Bigfork, where Grabelle set up a photography studio and gallery inside a log building off Highway 35.

Photographer Lauren Grabelle, left, shows Robin Young images of her dog Sugar that were published in “The Bark” magazine during Yappy Hour at her studio in Bigfork.

During their first months, Grabelle and Sugar adjusted to Montana life, taking walks along Flathead Lake and purchasing hiking necessities such as a can of bear spray, much to the amusement of her New Jersey relatives.

But Grabelle found herself missing the Yappy Hour that she and Sugar used to attend back home at Asbury Park. Located at the Wonder Bar on New Jersey’s now infamous Jersey Shore, Yappy Hour provided a setting for dog owners to congregate with fellow dog lovers and enjoy the summer as their animals play. While Grabelle didn’t have a beach-front property in Bigfork, she did have a large yard and deck that could be fenced in.

“It dawned on me that why miss it when I can do it myself?” she said.

And thus began what is purportedly Montana’s only Yappy Hour. Dog owners and lovers are welcome to stop by Grabelle’s studio every Thursday this summer from 4 to 7 p.m. Drinks and treats for humans and dogs alike are provided.

The Flathead Valley Animal Shelter and the Humane Society have been invited to attend with orphaned dogs.

Grabelle believes dogs are a great ice breaker.

Julie Beste cheers her Maltese Muffie over a jump during Yappy Hour at Lauren Grabelle’s photography studio in Bigfork. Grabelle, a dog and wedding photographer, hosts the weekly gathering for dog lovers to socialize while their dogs play off leash.

“Once you bring dogs into the mix, everyone wants to talk,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

At Grabelle’s gallery, the dogs have their run of a play area featuring a fenced-in yard studded with trees, a wade pool and an agility jump.

Ellie Bell, a local dog trainer, is on hand at the events to wrangle the dogs if problems arise.

“That way I can focus more on being the hostess,” Grabelle said.

The dogs’ owners, meanwhile, can stay in the shade, partake in refreshments and discuss anything and everything related to dogs. Also on hand to view are photographs shot by Grabelle.

A major portion of Grabelle’s work concentrates on capturing the relationships between dogs and their humans. On her gallery’s walls hangs a photo of a woman snuggling with her Chinese Crested, Sugar bounding in snow with another dog and a Jack Russell Terrier hiding behind his owner’s interlaced hands.

It looks as though Grabelle has been doing this for years, yet it took three years of owning Sugar for her to stumble upon this niche. In New Jersey, she primarily shot weddings and fine art, but also snapped pictures of Sugar on the side.

“One day I looked at the photos I’d taken of her and realized they were good and that I could do this for other people,” Grabelle said. “Next thing you know, I’m a dog photographer.”

Dog treats mingle on a table next to a bowl to pretzels for their owners during a Yappy Hour gathering at Lauren Grabelle’s photography studio in Bigfork.

For visitors who book a shoot with their dogs at the Yappy Hour gatherings (to be shot at a later date), Grabelle offers a bonus 11×14 picture in the package.

In addition to graduating from New York University with a degree in anthropology, Grabelle trained at the Parsons School of Design, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and the International School of Photography. While she has lived in locales such as New York City, Connecticut and Los Angeles, Grabelle is enjoying living in and photographing Montana.

“It reminds me of the area in New Jersey where I grew up, which was all horse country and farmland and now it’s nothing but strip malls,” she said. “I think I’ve always longed for this and I think I found what I’ve been looking for. It’s the beauty of the land, but more importantly, the beauty of the people.”

And as for Sugar?

“See those long legs?” Grabelle asked. “This girl needs to run and needs a little bit of land.”

For more information about Yappy Hour and Grabelle’s work, visit http://www.lgphoto.com/ or call (406) 837-3900

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