Editor's note: The following essay was published October 1, 2014 in Resource Library with permission of the author and the Tucson Museum of Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, please contact the Tucson Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
One of the Bunkhouse Boys: Duane Bryers and His Studio
by Christine C. Brindza
The Duane Bryers Studio (DBS) at the Tucson Museum of Art displays the work of Duane "Dick" Bryers (1911-2012), a contemporary artist of the American West who held a long career in painting and illustration. In this re-creation, visitors become immersed into the world of the artist, as if he momentarily stepped away from the easel. Replicating a studio of this popular Southern Arizona artist brings relevance and approachability as well as opportunity for engagement by Museum visitors. The Tucson Museum of Art takes an insightful and engaging look into the artistic process of Bryers and the importance his creative space -- his studio -- played in his life and career.
Opened in November, 2013, the DBS presents new methods to aid in the understanding of how artists' studios are viewed within today's context. Older, established replicated studios of Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and others across the country represent the spaces of artists who lived a century ago. The DBS represents a studio from contemporary times within today's context. The museums that have artist studios of the American West convey historic data: the economic status, views about the environment, and different groups and ethnicities from the time the artist lived. The goal of the DBS is to simplify this historic studio concept and strive to present the style and artistic traits of this artist in a forthright and accessible form for present-day audiences.
Duane "Dick" Bryers
For well over a half century as an artist, Bryers utilized creative spaces of all kinds, but over many years finally settled in a relaxed arrangement. However, before understanding the progress of this creative space and career it is important to be familiar with Bryers. Long before becoming an artist, he was born and raised in a remote area of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but he knew at a young age he desired to be an artist. In 1923, he moved with his family to Virginia, Minnesota, a mining town. By looking at how-to-draw books, a correspondence course, and studying the works of master artists Bryers taught himself how to draw. Though he tried other jobs the young Bryers could not ignore his calling to pursue an art profession.
Fascinated by the expressiveness of ordinary, hardworking people, Bryers chose to focus on this subject in his art over other themes. With a positive attitude and sense of humor he looked for opportunities to become a full time professional artist. In 1939, after a commission to paint a mural of the mining history of Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range, Bryers ventured to New York. There he was introduced to the cutthroat world of the magazine, newspaper, and book illustration industry.
When the US entered World War II Bryers entered and won the National War Poster Competition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. From 1943-1945 he served in the Army Air Force where he drew a syndicated comic strip, Cokey, until 1950. At the end of the War, Bryers began another phase of his illustrative career in Chicago where his work comprised of advertisements, illustrations, and portraits.
Bryers returned to New York and developed images of a pin-up girl named Hilda. The images of Hilda gained popularity and provided means of a stable income for the artist. Bryers kept detailed records and photographs of his time in New York. His studio was simple; a drafting table and chair were his most needed accessories. He shared a space for a time with another aspiring artist, Tom Hill, who would become a lifelong friend.
After coming to an agreement on Bryers' popular character of Hilda with publishers Brown and Bigelow, he was allowed the flexibility to leave New York. The desert and grasslands of Arizona became his home in 1958. He built a small residence near Sonoita, AZ that included his studio on the northwest corner of the home.
After settling in Arizona, Bryers consciously surrounded himself with the sights, sounds, and sensations of the American West. His studio served as a source of contemplation and solace, fun and enjoyment. He became engrossed in his work using sketches, photographs, books, and notes for reference. Bryers often wore a red bandana around his neck -- a distinctive western look. His palette contained bright, brilliant colors. As seen in the re-creation of his studio at TMA, on top of his easel hung cowboy hats, a symbol of his passion for cowboy themes but used for props in his work as well. Bryers' orange chair, which acted as an epicenter for the artist, sat near the window providing a view of his favorite desert and grassland landscape.
The imagination, personality, and passion of this artist are present within the confines of the Studio re-creation. Throughout his careers in both illustration and independent fine art Bryers created memorable characters and nostalgic events. He took pleasure in every moment behind the easel. His gift for storytelling is noticeably reflected onto his canvases, exhibiting a sense of humor or a view of the inner strength of the common man or woman. Even away from his studio, he constantly thought of new compositions and tales to be told.
For Bryers, the West provided new and exciting means of inspiration. He took advantage of his surroundings and reinvented himself as an artist. He studied cowboys and other westerners and recalled the hard working men and women from Michigan and Minnesota. Some of the characters he painted, or drew in pastel, were fun and full of wit, as in The Bunkhouse Boys from the Lazy Daisy Ranch, which were included in his book published in 1974. This publication served as his debut into the world of art of the West.
His wife, Dee, helped write The Bunkhouse Boysand came up with many of the names of his characters. She encouraged him as an artist and, according to his daughter, Polly, "She was his backbone." In a sense, The Bunkhouse Boysrevealed more than his abilities as an artist, but himself as an individual. He could create hilarity in the portraits of "Oats Weevil," "Moose Johnson," and "Dirty Poole" among other fictional westerners. As stated in the introduction of The Bunkhouse Boys, "You might say they're crazy, but The Bunkhouse Boys also a helluva lot of fun and should help you unwind for a couple of hours."[i]
Contrary to Bryers' lightheartedness in The Bunkhouse Boys,Paper Flowers, 1975, oil on canvas, arouses somber and heartfelt emotions. The simplicity of the composition, the sole figure looking at a grave, tells a powerful story for each viewer may interpret. This shows the versatility of the artist's work and his abilities in narrative painting. This work was considered by the artist to be one of his finest.
During Bryers' lifetime, Southern Arizona became a haven for artists. After grueling careers in illustration in the mid-twentieth century, many sought escape from New York and other magazine and newspaper hubs. Several in particular became friends with Bryers. Together, they became the "Tucson 7": Harley Brown, Don Crowley, Tom Hill, Bob Kuhn, Ken Riley, and Howard Terpning. As friends, they socialized together, but as professionals they discussed techniques and ideas in regard to each other's work. Among the highlights of the Tucson 7 were their exhibitions showing their work together at the Tucson Museum of Art. The first, The Tucson 7 in 1997. Years later, The Tucson Seven Rides Again in 2005.
Aside from his work appearing in exhibitions and publications, one of Bryers' highest artistic achievements was his oil on canvas painting, Two's Company,[ii] which won The Prix de West Society Award in 1997 and was purchased for the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum's permanent collection. [iii] The solitary cowboy with a contemplative gaze to the distance while stepping through a vibrant blue doorframe epitomizes Bryers' ability to create essence of character while displaying technical skill in figurative painting and color theory.
Bryers drew and painted for practically his whole life, and still continued to work in a studio space until his passing in 2012. His extensive archives of photographs, notes, and sketches were donated to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Several paintings, sketches, and studio furniture are currently on loan to the Tucson Museum of Art from the Bryers family.
The Duane Bryers Studio and Historic Artist Studios
Artist studios are magnified as historic sites, but in a museum dedicated to art of the American West they are exclusively identifiable as a national treasure; studied and scrutinized by the artist's (or museum's) location. In a museum, the artist's studio is elevated into a significant, almost sacred realm where everyday paints, palettes, canvases, and brushes become extraordinary. The personality of the artist is present as well; certain characteristics seen in the studio's arrangement, the smells of the paint, the furniture, etc. are components of the entire representation of the artist and his studio.
Period rooms, particularly artist studio interiors, present a hybrid of art and history.[iv] In the mid-twentieth century, museums dedicated to art of the American West began to integrate studios in gallery spaces emphasizing the creative process. Today, Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, John Clymer, William R. Leigh, and a wide range of other "western artist" studios are in museums across the country, presented as authentic views of the time each artist lived and how he found inspiration for his work.
As Elizabeth Kennedy stated in her 2005 article, "Home on the Range: Frederic Remington's Recreated Studio at the Whitney Gallery of Western Art," there was an evolution of replicating artist's studios in the twentieth century where a "paradoxical acceptance of the fake rooms" were taken as accurate in the Art of the American West genre, where "validity is demanded." The intent of the re-creation of Bryers' space is to present a straightforward, welcoming, and down-to-earth atmosphere for visitors to experience. The validity that a visitor may seek from this space is not necessarily to believe that the room is original or authentic, but that it presents fundamental material that aids in telling the story about the artist, his space, and his works of art.
The DBS takes the idea of the artist's studio and presents it from a point of view recognizable to current day audiences; an unassuming and fresh perspective. The re-creation offers a sense of place and identity that the visitor may share or interpret using their personal experiences. The Bryers Studio is identifiable with the American West, as it originated within Southern Arizona, the artist created images of the American West, and he played a large role in Western artist groups.
A critical component to the DBS is that the space does not concentrate on historic references or queues for audiences to distinguish anything but Bryers' life and creative process. The paintings, pastels, sketches, and the tools become a figurative portrait of the artist. The furniture and accessories provide insight to his process rather than a dated newspaper, artifact, or reference to times past.
These historic queues are evident in other studios such as the Frederic Remington Studio at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming and the Charles Russell Home and Log Cabin in Great Falls, Montana. Frederic Remington, one of the best known illustrators and fine artists of the American West, visited the west on several occasions served as an artist- correspondent for magazine illustrations as well as a tourist. On these trips he collected objects to use as props to replicate in his paintings. The Remington Studio contains the artist's personal collections. Rifles, moccasins, war shirts, caballero outfits, etc. provide historical references to the time Remington lived.
Though the collection of artifacts was taken from his home in New Rochelle, New York to Cody, Wyoming, the integrity of the studio space and its context of time and place were still intact. In fact, it had been argued that the transfer of the Remington Studio to Wyoming was more appropriate and its meaning enhanced in a western environment than in New York.[v] It confirmed the artist as an active participant and observer to the development of the West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Charles Russell Home and Log Cabin Studio in Great Falls, Montana stands within 60 feet of its original location and includes the objects possessed by the famous "Cowboy Artist." Russell's obsession with the West started as a child and resonated throughout his life. Not only did he live in the West, but he lived as a "westerner"; for a time he worked as a cowboy, and spent time with the Blackfeet Indians. As an artist, he conveyed the West from a nostalgic point of view, watching its evolution through the turn of the twentieth century. After his death his wife, Nancy Russell, donated the studio, property, and all of the belongings within to the City of Great Falls as a memorial in 1928.[vi] Designated National Historic Landmark since 1966, today this artist's studio lies mostly unchanged, though the setting around the studio -- the City of Great Falls, the Museum, and surrounding structures -- urbanized over the past century. The Studio's core identity did not transform with the times, but instead becomes a time capsule of Russell's studio and love of the West.
The DBS is not a time capsule, memorial, or a hallowed ground. Instead, it is a space representing the "here and now" celebrating the artist and his creative process highlighting relatable objects and works of art. The purpose of the Studio is to reach out to audiences asking why an artist's studio is important in the greater art canon [vii] of the Western genre. Children may be able to recognize the paints, brushes, and easel as items they may use in art classes. Adults are provided the opportunity to see the setting and artist's affection for his vocation while appreciating the time, research, and creativity needed to complete works of art. The space is not pristine or phony. Most importantly, visitors see the final product on the walls: the paintings. Audiences from numerous backgrounds may connect with the artistic material at various emotional levels. In turn, Bryers presents Western art as an active and present genre; one he chose to elevate into the twenty-first century.
The Atmosphere of the Studio
In the Studio are examples of Bryers' illustrative career and works of Western art subjects. This personal evolution is a significant component for not only the artist during his life, but for Museum visitors to get a "snapshot" of his professional growth. The space includes an early self portrait of Bryers from 1937 when he first moved to New York: documenting himself as a young, ambitious artist experimenting with various stylistic techniques. Within the same area is an illustration titled, Dog Show,1957, on illustration board,produced during the height of his illustrative period. With a slight turn of the head the visitor is immersed in Bryers' world of the West. J6 Ranch, , oil on canvas, and Pig Drive, 1982, oil on Masonite, epitomize how the artist deviated from illustration to the Western genre with ease.
Entering the DBS, a converted gallery space, measuring approximately 16 x 14 ft., a visitor encounters the artist's original easel with his cowboy hats placed on top of each side. The painting, Going for the Mail, , oil on canvas, sits upon it as if a work in progress. This is one of the last paintings that Bryers worked on before his failing eyesight prevented him from painting the quality of work he felt was presentable to the public. The weather conditions within the work: the harsh blowing wind, the sky, and muted color palette, all imply that a storm looms. In Bryers' known narrative style, he tells a story where the audience anticipates what may happen next.
On the shelves in the easel are original paints and materials that Bryers used while working on his paintings. Next to the easel, the palette table houses brushes, more paints, bottles of linseed oil, pencils, erasers, and a treasure trove of his sketchbooks. This area of the Studio concentrates on the artist as a creator, inventor, discoverer, and innovator. A photographic view from his Sonoita, AZ home, displayed as a mock window hangs on the wall; the same view the artist had while working in his studio.
Upon the walls of the DBS are paintings by the artist from different points in his lifetime. These works of art were not hung in this way in the original Bryers studio in Sonoita, but they signify the scope and breadth of his career as an artist. In this way, the Studio has a dual purpose: display not only the furniture and artist's materials, but focus on his achievements as if it were a museum exhibition.
Bar Association, 1998, Nashville, 1981, both larger scale oil paintings on canvas, hang to the left and right respectfully; testimonials to the artist's ability to conjure an audience response. Bar Association, a work with a humorous spin, contains exaggerated figures and cartoonish faces reminiscent of The Bunkhouse Boys. counterpart, Nashville, abandons the humor and comedic stylization and hones in on the singular figure holding a guitar case on the side of a road. The road itself moves into the expansive horizon in the center of the painting, symbolic of the future. The expression on the young man's face contains lighter highpoints of color, perhaps an indicator of hopefulness.
The DBS displays work by the artist presenting the dichotomy of his work; the playful and the tranquil. From his early days illustrating Cokey, Dog Show,and "Hilda," to his attention of Western themes, he consistently focused on personal circumstance. As the artist once said, "The human condition is my preoccupation?the body, facial language, gestures, and attitudes. Every face has a story to tell, and I apply my instincts and talent to reveal it on canvas."[viii]
Didactic material presenting biographical and art historical information about Bryers and his studio are on the walls and upon a rail in front of the Studio. Dubbed the "reading rail," this has multiple uses: to prevent damage to the objects and to present interpretive materials. Recently, because of the outpouring of local patrons who knew Bryers and his work, a new component, a "reaction board," was installed for visitors to post their memories or thoughts. Questions about the Studio, the artist, and overall responses to the space are posted for museum goers for interaction. Monitored daily, the reaction board asks audiences to engage and actively contribute to the re-creation.
Living Artist Studios
Bryers spent many hours working on compositions in his studio, often through the night. He surrounded himself with reference books, sketches, paints, pastels and other tools of his trade, arranged the way he liked them -- slightly disorganized. This is evidenced by the dresser on the left of the re-created Studio and the dispersed sketches and photos throughout the space. The "Mud Hut," the nickname for the home which he constructed in Sonoita, contained more than his studio, but a type of sanctuary where his friends and family were welcome.[ix] Bryers did not look to glamorize his studio intentionally, but rather create a work space in which he was comfortable.
There is an air of glamor in an artist's studio, serving as an outward and public space, but also a private, inward area reflective of what the artist produces.[x] Outside of museum spaces and re-created studios, there are numerous arts organizations across the country, such as the Western Art Patrons of the Tucson Museum of Art, who are continually drawn to visiting living artist studios. They usually consist of collectors and art enthusiasts who look to find the special "spark" in a studio to better understand an artist's work. Once given entry into this creative space they ask questions, view the equipment and surroundings, and see the final -- or in-process -- works of art.
The artist is raised in status during these open visits; a genius that has the ability to create masterful pieces and serve as a conduit from which the creative essence flows. The studio is the stage; the works of art the performance. This outward, romanticized duty of the artist studio unveils some secrets about the artist and his work, but not all. After the visitors and displays of wares, the studio metaphorically turns inward and the artist again is given the freedom to explore, contemplate, and work in a safe, exclusive environment.
Mass media has the ability to reach large audiences and generate enthusiasm worldwide about these types of studios. Currently Southwest Art Magazine features living artist studios in almost every issue, recently featuring artists Jesse Powell, Star York, and numerous others.[vi] In social media outlets countless blogs exist about artists in their studios. Not only are members of the public posting and reblogging written entries and studio photographs of famous masters Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol, but many post information about their own working studios. [xii] Other social media sites, such as Pinterest, attempt to break down barriers of artist and the ordinary, everyday person by providing ideas and instructions on how to paint, sculpt, sew, or bake items usually left to professional artists.
In development of the DBS the overall message was not to create an idyllic nor exclusively utilitarian "untouchable" workspace, but an approachable environment where visitors of all ages and backgrounds may explore and learn. The Tucson Museum of Art is most thankful for those that contributed to this project. The Bryers family actively participated in the development of the DBS, offering information, historical references, photographs, and personal memories to include in the re-creation.
Polly Bryers, one of the daughters of the late artist, remarked about the studio," The Tucson Museum of Art's beautiful and artistic re-creation of the Duane Bryers Studio offers the visitor a unique opportunity to enter into the creative space of a wonderful, endlessly talented Arizona artist and to learn about his long and interesting life."[xiii] The Tucson Museum of Art is grateful for the participation of the Bryers family to help make the Studio re-creation come to fruition.
Carl and Judie Schmidlapp were most helpful in allowing the Tucson Museum of Art staff to take photos of their property: the site of Bryers' Sonoita home and studio. JB Miller assisted in this photography project and promoted the DBS in an article in The Weekly Bulletin, Southern Arizona publication. [xiv]
After its opening, friends of Bryers conveyed their support of the studio. For example, Tom Hill wrote a letter to CEO of The Tucson Museum of Art, Robert Knight, April 16, 2014;
"Many thanks to you and all the folks that created the replica of Duane Bryers' Sonoita AZ Studio! Dick and I were friends for fifty years (mas-o-minus) and I knew his abilities from first hand observation. We shared a studio in N.Y.C.- prior to his moving to Arizona- and our two families did many things together in those years. All the guys of the 'Tucson Seven' (What's left of them) were also pals- and admirers of Dick's life and work."[xv]
Throughout his 100 years, Bryers upheld a positive approach in any task saying, "I didn't know I couldn't do it."[xvi In his re-created artist studio, the Tucson Museum of Art held to this same principle. It is here that Bryers, the figurative "Bunkhouse Boy," and his creative spirit live on.
i Bryers, Duane and Ray, Dee. The Bunkhouse Boys from the Lazy Daisy Ranch (Flagstaff, Arizona: Northland Press, 1974)
ii Bryers, Polly and Gelenberg, Patty. (personal communication, February
iii "Duane Bryers", A. Keith Brodkin Contemporary Western Artists Project, Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, DVD. February 15, 2003.
iv Kennedy, Elizabeth. "Home on the Range: Frederic Remington's Recreated Studio at the Whitney Gallery of Western Art." Visual Resources, Vol. XXI, No.3, September 2005, p.275-285.
v Kennedy, 283
vi C.M. Russell Home and Log Cabin Studio: National Historic Landmark", C.M. Russell Museum, Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., 2011 <www.tfaoi.com/aa/1aa/1aa543.htm>
vii Canon: looking at Art of the American West as a whole
viii Sherman, Tisa Rodriguez, and Yassin, Robert A. The Tucson 7, Tucson Museum of Art, (Tucson, Arizona: Arizona Lithographers, 1997) p.18
ix JB Miller, "Tucson Museum Recreates Bryers' Studio" The Weekly Bulletin, 12 Nov 2013.
x Sasse, Julie. "The Romance of the Studio: Space and the Creative Object", ENG549 Theories and Methods in the Study of Everyday Life, University of Arizona, 3 May 2009.
xi Southwest Art Magazine, Artist Studios Category Archives< http://www.southwestart.com/articles-interviews/artist-studios> 5 Mar 2014.
xii Results from searches on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook on 5 Mar 2014.
xiii The Tucson Museum of Art Presents a Re-creation of the Duane Bryers Studio", Tucson Museum of Art, 23 Jun 2014,
< https://www.tucsonmuseumofart.org/newsroom/bryers-studio-opens/ >
xiv JB Miller, "Tucson Museum Recreates Bryers' Studio" The Weekly Bulletin, 12 Nov 2013.
xv Tom Hill, Letter to Robert Knight, April 16, 2014.
xvi Bryers, Polly and Gelenberg, Patty. (personal communication, February 20, 2013)
About the author
Christine Brindza is Glasser Curator, Art of the American West at the Tucson Museum of Art.
About the exhibition
The Tucson Museum of Art is presenting a re-creation of artist Duane Bryers' studio in the Goodman Pavilion of the Museum. The exhibition was created with the assistance of the Bryers' family and will be on display indefinitely. For more information please visit TucsonMuseumofArt.org or call 520-624-2333. (right: Duane Bryers in his Studio, December 1982. Photo courtesy of the Bryers Family)
Duane Bryers (1911-2012), a beloved artist of Tucson and Southern Arizona, displayed his endearing wit and love of the American West in the works of art produced within his studio. The Tucson Museum of Art takes an insightful and engaging look into the creative process of Duane Bryers and the importance his art space -- his studio -- played in his life and career. In this re-creation, visitors become immersed into the world of the artist as if he just stepped away from the easel.
After settling in Arizona in 1958, Duane Bryers consciously surrounded himself with the sights, sounds, and sensations of the American West. His studio served as a source of contemplation and solace, fun and enjoyment. He became engrossed in his work using sketches, photographs, books, and notes for reference. His palette, always close to his easel, contained bright, brilliant colors. Bryers' orange chair sat near the window providing a view of his favorite desert and grassland landscape of Sonoita, Arizona where he resided for 25 years until moving to Tucson. On top of his easel hung a cowboy hat, a symbol of his passion for western themes. The artist once stated, "The mere act of putting pencil to paper, or brush to canvas is a joy."
"We weren't looking for an exact replica, but instead wanted to create the feel, or essence, of the artist in his creative space," said Christine Brindza, Glasser Curator of Art of the American West. "Museum patrons are encouraged to discover the ways that this artist found inspiration and interpreted it in his work."
Polly Bryers, one of the daughters of the late artist, remarked about the studio," The Tucson Museum of Art's beautiful and artistic re-creation of the Duane Bryers Studio offers the visitor a unique opportunity to enter into the creative space of a wonderful, endlessly talented Arizona artist and to learn about his long and interesting life." She and her family provided first-hand knowledge, numerous photographs, and research materials for the re-creation.
Throughout his 100 years, Bryers upheld a positive approach
in any task saying, "I didn't know I couldn't do it." In looking
at his studio, this characteristic may be revealed.
(above: Duane Bryers, Self Portrait, c. 1939, oil on canvas board, 17 1/2 x 13 1/2 inches. Collection of the Bryers Family. Image courtesy of the Tucson Museum of Art)
(above left and right: Views of installation at Tucson Museum of Art. Photos: David Longwell)
To view additional images please click here
Resource Library editor's note
The above essay was published October 1, 2014 in Resource Library with permission of the author and the Tucson Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on September 29, 2014.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Christine C. Brindza, Glasser Curator, Art of the American West at the Tucson Museum of Art for her help concerning publishing the essay.
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