Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin run a combination art park, B&B and roadside attraction in Idaho.
Dog Bark Park, Dennis Sullivan, Frances Conklin, QVC
MRV: The Buzz, Your Outdoor Lifestyle Insider, Written By: Renee Wright
Chainsaw Carved Bed & Breakfast At Dog Bark Park
Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin Create Art Park, B&B & Roadside Attraction Using A Chainsaw, Carving Out Super-Size Sculptures Of Dogs
Traveling south down US 95, the major road connecting Coeur d’Alene and Boise, travelers through Idaho are often startled by the super-size sculpture of a beagle. It’s not a hallucination; it’s the creation of the fertile minds of Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin, two chainsaw artists that found success - and marital bliss - through carving dogs.
Dennis and Frances were both East Coast transplants that came west looking for the wide open spaces. “We both grew up with a fascination for the interior West,” Frances says. “Dennis came out from Massachusetts in 1961. I left New Jersey in 1971. We met years later in Montana.”
Frances says that love of the mountains brought the two together. “We love the independent spirit of the West,” she says. “There’s a can-do attitude, and an independence that we both find appealing. Maybe it’s a throwback to the early days of settlement when you had to be prepared to take care of yourself. But there’s a community spirit here, too, neighbors are always willing to pitch in and help. Of course, the low humidity and lack of bugs doesn’t hurt,” she laughs.
A few years after they got together, Frances and Dennis were looking for a way to support their family. “Our dream was to work together. We were already doing chainsaw carving, we just needed to figure out a way make it support a family.”
It was at this point that the two had the vision of the Dog Bark Park, a roadside attraction inhabited by chainsaw carved dogs and other art works. “We didn’t know where we would build it, and we needed to boost our business beyond the craft shows and wholesale accounts that we were doing then to have the money.”
In 1995, Frances was working at an office in Montana, commuting to see Dennis in Idaho, when their big break came. “I fished a letter out of the trash from QVC. They were looking for artists in all 50 states for their 50 In 50 tour - 50 states in 50 weeks. We were selected from 250 Idaho artists to be one of 20 to represent our state.”
Dennis and Frances offered carvings of five different breeds of dogs - Beagles, Scotties, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds - to QVC audiences during the show’s Idaho segment. “We sold out that weekend,” Frances says, “and we were second in sales volume.”
Their success led to a year-and-a-half stint with QVC. “We ended up with a bundle of cash,” she says. “We thought we could buy all of Northern Idaho with all that money. Not quite, but we did manage a couple of acres in Cottonwood on the main road.”
The QVC windfall changed their lives. “I quit my job in Montana, and Dennis and I could finally settle down, and stop traveling to shows so much.” Dennis, a professional carpenter, got started on the couple’s dream: a combination art studio, art park and roadside attraction.
Beagle carvings had always been the couple’s best sellers on QVC, so they started out with Toby, a 12-foot tall beagle statue. A couple of years later, according to Frances, the idea of a much larger companion dog, what would become the Dog Bark Park’s signature attraction, was born.
“Over dinner and a glass of wine, one cold December evening, we got to talking about how great Toby was and how people loved him. Dennis said, what if I built a really big dog? Originally it was just going to be a dog shaped billboard, but then I said, what if we fattened him up?” The result, Sweet Willy, is the world’s largest beagle and the only dog-shaped B&B in existence.
Sweet Willy is 30 feet tall, 34 feet from nose to tail, and 14 feet wide. Bed and breakfast guests lucky enough to score a reservation enjoy a dog themed interior that sleeps four, including two futon beds in the beagle’s head. The accommodations, available from April till the end of October, are usually completely booked, often several years in advance.
Over the years, Sweet Willy and Toby have been joined by a variety of other carvings, often inspired by a challenge Dennis dreams up. “He decided he wanted to do a curved roof,” Frances recalls. “That turned into our third beagle, this one 12 feet tall and sitting down.” Currently it’s used as a storage building, but may eventually transition to a glamping cabin.
Other statues in the “bark park” include a giant retro Corningware style coffee pot (“every bed and breakfast needs a coffeepot,” Frances says) that doubles as a kids playhouse, a retro toaster with giant slices of wooden toast, a huge pink pig, and an old style wooden car for kids to climb on. The Blockmaster’s house, constructed when Dennis got the urge to build a Gothic arch, has a carved wooden guy wearing the artist’s old clothes on the porch, and a teetering pile of huge concrete blocks nearby spelling out the word “doggie.”
Travelers (and their dogs) are welcome to browse around the every-growing roadside attraction, meet Sprocket, the resident real, live golden retriever, and stop by the studio where Dennis and Frances craft 3-D representations of some 60 different dog breeds, often based on the photo of a beloved pet. A gift shop offers folk-art carvings, such as bears, moose, fish and other native species, made on site, as well as more mundane souvenirs, including Big Dog mugs. Tourist information is also available, including maps of the Lewis and Clark Trail that runs nearby.
“People kept telling me I ought to write a book, so I finally have,” Frances says. The result “Sweet Willy: A Noble and Absurd Undertaking,” recounts, according to Frances, the “brief but spectacular moments behind Dennis’ and my love story. With photos.”
One other carving rises next to US 95: an 11 foot, bright red fire hydrant. There’s a porta-potty inside, a welcome amenity along this highway with 200 miles between rest stops. “Besides,” says Frances, “when you have two big dogs, you need a big hydrant.”
A graduate of Franconia College in Social Psychology, Renee has worked as Travel Editor for Charlotte Magazine and has written three travel guidebooks for Countryman Press among other writing assignments. She enjoys food and camping.
Make Sure To Check Out:
Dog Bark Park Inn, a bed & breakfast guesthouse inside the World's Biggest Beagle. Guests enter the body of the beagle from a private 2nd story deck. Some of the dog's decorative furnishings are carvings by Dog Bark Park chainsaw artists Dennis & Frances.