Every weekday morning, Eliza Reinhardt and her creative partner, Finn, start their day at 7am by getting up, brewing a cup of coffee, and snuggling while they browse online galleries to find a work of art to re-create as part of the Getty Museum Challenge. After choosing a painting, Reinhardt finds the costumes and props they’ll need to bring it to life, sets up the shot in the loft in her apartment that serves as her art studio, and gets Finn dressed in his costume and in place for the photo shoot.
Finn is a three-year-old Australian shepherd, but he follows direction as carefully as an actor on a film set. “I really do think Finn takes this on as his daily task,” Reinhardt said. “I say, ‘Finn, do you want to do a photo? You want to go take a picture?’ And he’s ready to go.”
When the Getty Museum Challenge, which invited art lovers to re-create a work of art using objects they found at home, went viral, many participants gave their beloved dogs and cats a starring role. But beyond the delightful fun of re-creating art, Reinhardt and Finn also found something completely unexpected: continued purpose and inspiration that’s helped carry them through the COVID-19 pandemic.
For this duo, the challenge brought structure, a creative outlet, and a community of supporters who delight in their unique reimagining of works of art.
“I enjoy the challenge of finding an artwork that Finn and I can be in, and then I have to really think and be creative about [how to re-create it]. It really did replace a job for me. I feel very unproductive in my day if I don’t do it,” said Reinhardt.
Although Reinhardt grew up in a family of artists, as a child she was never interested in creating her own art. But when she was 18, she accidentally hit her head on a doorknob, which resulted in significant memory loss. Gone were memories of friends, family, and school subjects. Reinhardt’s mom suggested she take a drawing class in college, since it didn’t require her to have any previous knowledge or skill. There, Reinhardt found a new passion, and a new way to cope with the trauma of her memory loss.
“Especially at the beginning, because I had to relearn speech to a point, it was the only way I knew how to talk to people and show people what was going on with me,” Reinhardt said.
After getting a BFA in painting from the University of Iowa, Reinhardt moved to St. Louis with her boyfriend and his dog, Finn, where she landed an internship at an art gallery and a job in retail at City Museum. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she was laid off and found herself at home alone every day with Finn, a high-energy dog who, like her, wasn’t accustomed to being home all day.
Finn whined if she closed the door to her studio to paint, so she started wondering if there was a way to keep them both entertained at home. The Getty challenge, which she had seen on social media, would be an ideal activity, she realized.
“He just loves to be involved in things and he loves to wear clothes. He gets so wiggly and excited,” Reinhardt said. “I thought, this is perfect because he loves to be in front of the camera and put on an outfit.”
At first, Reinhardt chose paintings that included dogs and other animals, tapping into a rich tradition of portraits featuring beloved pets—her first re-creation was the 1786 painting Lady with a Dog by Mather Brown. But then it occurred to her: Wouldn’t it be funny if Finn stood in as a person or an object? Who says he can only portray other animals? So, she assigned Finn roles like Eurydice in Orpheus and Eurydice by George Frederick Watts, a vase in Fernand Léger’s Woman Holding a Vase (definitive state), and a doll for Maya with her Doll by Pablo Picasso. Their recreations grew more and more elaborate, with Reinhardt spending up to four hours a day painting backdrops, gathering props, doing her makeup, and teaching Finn how to pose for the shot. (Reinhardt takes the photos herself using her camera’s timer.)
Finn has never attended obedience training, and why he’s so eager to follow Reinhardt’s instructions remains a bit of a mystery. But his enthusiasm for the project is undeniable. Reinhardt hypothesizes that, like other Australian shepherds, Finn thrives on having a job to do and tasks to learn.
In fact, Reinhardt said Finn has transformed into a “different dog” throughout this process—a better listener, better at following instructions, more patient. For their recreation of The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo, Finn even inadvertently revealed that he understands his role even more than anyone would have guessed.
“He wasn’t listening to the fact that I was asking him to look a certain direction, so I showed him the printout of the painting. And afterward, he just looked straight where I asked him to and held it,” Reinhardt said. “You see his little brain ticking to understand what I’m saying. He tries so hard, and he’s excited when he does it right.”
After Reinhardt began posting her recreations on Instagram and Reddit, she amassed a following of art- and dog-lovers who have reached out to tell her that the re-creations are a welcome, uplifting distraction during this difficult time, and they look forward to seeing what she and Finn will come up with every day. For a self-described “people person” who struggled with losing the ability to socialize and go to museums when COVID-19 hit, this community became an unexpected but welcome perk of the project.
Since recently relocating to Texas, Reinhardt and Finn continue to recreate art, and Reinhardt is exploring the possibility of creating a coffee table book or postcards of their photos. She said she intends to keep the project going as long as she, Finn, and their followers still enjoy it—after all, it’s now part of her and Finn’s daily routine, one that’s given them both an artistic and social outlet.
“It feels like I made a little community of people who feel gracious about my work. I respond really well to knowing that I’m helping somebody and making someone’s day, so it’s kind of like a circle,” Reinhardt said. “It feels like a little family I’ve made.”
“And,” she added, “I can’t stop as long as Finn is alive because he expects our photo shoot every day.”