Artist Michael Muller's dog is his muse
The former teacher and gallery-owner fashioned a whole new career built around Mirabelle, his adorable Boston Terrier
Tom Boeke, left, gave Mirabelle, a Boston Terrier, to Michael Muller who says she has changed his life. Muller's written three books about her and has designed cards and gifts featuring his beloved Mirabelle. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun photo / October 25, 2012)
The newspaper ad promised Boston Terrier puppies and there they were, gamboling about an Annapolis breeder's kitchen, five or six of them, squirmy, sweet and wild.
Tom Boeke knew which one it would be after only a minute. The one that sashayed right over, sat down and gave him some heart-melting puppy eye.
"You know how you just know sometimes?" says Boeke who a few days later fixed a red bow onto the pup's collar thinking he was giving his friend Michael Muller a dog for Christmas.
Little did he know, he gave him a furry muse.
This fall, nearly six years after Muller met the dog he would name Mirabelle, Muller is no longer a first grade teacher. He's a Baltimore artist who's particularly known for fine art photographs of a certain black and white dog. He and Boeke are partners in a venture that sells everything from Mirabelle shirts to skateboards. And Workman Publishing just released a trio of children's picture books -- written by Muller -- about a terrier named Mirabelle.
"I always say I give all the credit to Mirabelle," Muller says. "I had the honor to be inspired by her."
Mirabelle isn't Muller's first dog -- not even his first Boston Terrier. When Boeke gave her to him in 2006, she became the third Boston in his household. He just loves the breed's compact bodies and boundless energy, the alertness in their pointy ears -- even the snoring and grunting that comes as a package deal with their flat snouts.
"They are such people dogs," he says, "so inquisitive and interested in the world around them. Certain people see beauty in certain ways and I see a pushed-in little nose as beauty."
Muller will tell anyone that like Boeke, he sensed something different about Mirabelle even as a puppy. A certain worldliness, a way of knowing just what he wanted from her that had nothing to do with training.
Mirabelle came to work every day to the Rehoboth Beach gallery Muller and Boeke had opened together. The other dogs did not.
She'd snooze in her bed behind the counter and when a customer would come in, she'd greet them gently. If folks wanted to take her picture, she was always willing. Sometimes she'd show uncanny salesmanship, standing gamely by the rack of cards with her picture on them.
"She was meant to be our shop girl," Muller says.
He named her, in fact, after the title character in the Steve Martin novella, "Shop Girl."
Because of the faltering economy and a difficult location, gallery business was slow. So Muller and Boeke decided to advertise. On a whim, Muller put one of his photos of Mirabelle in the ad -- a shot of her sitting on a leather chair, staring down the camera, ears up.
"People came in saying, 'Who's that little dog in the ad?'" Muller remembers, adding Mirabelle not only got traffic to the shop, she got people to open their wallets. "The economy was such that nobody was buying thousand-dollar pieces but they bought a Mirabelle card for $3.50 and a $20 Mirabelle T-shirt."
At some point Muller and Boeke decided Mirabelle was working but the gallery was not. On a buying trip to New York, Muller recalls a soul-searching conversation the two had over dinner. Was this interest in Mirabelle something that could last? Did they have the courage and tenacity to see it through?
"The universe seems to be pushing us in this direction," Muller said they decided. "Let's listen."
Boeke returned to being a full-time physical therapist while he and Muller started a wholesale art card business with everything designed by Muller.