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Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students

November 7, 2015 - March 13, 2016


When illustrator Harvey Dunn died in 1952, his obituary in The New York Times bore the headline "Harvey Dunn, 68, Artist, Teacher." Known for depicting the harsh realities of World War I combat as well as the healing comfort of life on the prairie, Dunn also served as an important instructor for a number of successful artists. Dedicated to the art of American illustration, Norman Rockwell Museum presents a new exhibition that explores the work of this influential Golden Age illustrator, as well as the students who absorbed his masterful technique and personal philosophy; "Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students" is on view at the Museum from November 7, 2015 through March 13, 2016. (right: Harvey Dunn (1884-1952), After School, 1950. Oil on canvas. South Dakota Art Museum Collection. Gfit of Anonymous Donor.)

"Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students" will highlight Dunn's stunning, painterly illustrations for the prominent periodicals of his day, including "Scribner's," "Harper's," "Collier's Weekly," "Century," "Outing," and "The Saturday Evening Post." It will also feature powerful works created for the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, in which he recorded the unforgettable realities of war, as well as the artist's prairie paintings, inspired by his life-long love of South Dakota's landscape and history. Featuring over 85 paintings, the exhibition will also feature original artworks by Dunn's prodigious students, including Dean Cornwell, Henry C. Pitz, Mead Schaeffer, Harold von Schmidt, Frank Street, Saul Tepper, John Clymer, Lyman Anderson, and James E. Allen, among others. 

"We are honored to present this first major exhibition celebrating the art and legacy of American illustration master, Harvey Dunn," notes Norman Rockwell Museum's Chief Curator, Stephanie Plunkett. "A brilliant and prolific illustrator of America's Golden Age, Dunn was a prodigy of legendary artist Howard Pyle, and admired teacher in his own right." 

"It's exciting for us to be able to share our Dunn collection, especially the prairie works that haven't been on tour before," says Jodi Lundgren, Curator at South Dakota Art Museum. "South Dakota loves Harvey Dunn and it's exciting to share our own collection in other museums around the nation." 

Artworks are drawn from the collection of the South Dakota Art Museum, as well as The Kelly Collection of American Illustration Art, The Illustrated Gallery, The Eisenstat Collection of American Illustration, Norman Rockwell Museum, Collection of Carol and Murray Tinkelman, and other private lenders.

Organized by Norman Rockwell Museum in collaboration with the South Dakota Art Museum, the exhibition is made possible through generous support from First Bank & Trust.


Harvey Dunn (1884-1952) 

Born on a homestead near Manchester, South Dakota, Harvey Dunn (1884-1952) left the farm to study at the South Dakota Agricultural College and the Art Institute of Chicago before becoming one of Howard Pyle's most accomplished students-along with N.C. Wyeth and Frank E. Schoonover-and eventually opened his own studios in Wilmington, Delaware, and in Leonia and Tenfly, New Jersey. 

In 1906, Dunn obtained his first advertising commission from the Keuffel and Esser Company of New York, and throughout his prodigious career, he created painterly illustrations for the leading magazines of the day. 

Dunn was one of eight war artists assigned to the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I. He struggled emotionally as a result of his wartime experiences, but found solace in painting visions of the prairie, inspired by his boyhood memories and love of South Dakota's landscape and history. 

In 1914 following Howard Pyle's death in 1911, Dunn moved from Wilmington to Leonia, New Jersey, which provided close access to his publishers in New York City. The following year, he founded the Leonia School of Illustration with artist Charles S. Chapman, explaining his unique mission: "Art schools teach complexities, while I teach simplicities. The only purpose in my being here is to get [students] to think pictorially." 

He went on to teach at the Grand Central School of Art, Pratt Institute, and the Art Students League, inspiring many of the twentieth century's most influential visual communicators.



(above: Harvey Dunn (1884-1952), Coming Off Duty (Camouflage), 1929. Cover illustration for The American Legion Monthly, January 1930. Oil on canvas. The Kelly Collection of American Illustration Art.)


Exhibition Opening

A special exhibition opening was held at the Museum on November 7 from 6 to 8 p.m., with remarks from Lynn Verschoor, Director of the South Dakota Art Museum. Ms. Verschoor provided commentary on Harvey Dunn and her museum's extensive collection of the artist's work; followed by remarks from Ella Rue, curator of "Love a Vet," a unique exhibition of contemporary illustrators paying tribute to our nation's veterans.



Art Talks 

"For the Love of Art: Harvey Dunn and His Students," Saturday, November 21, 5:30 p.m. Attendees explored the art of Harvey Dunn and Golden Age illustration from a collector's perspective. Elizabeth Alberding, Curator/Collections Manager of The Kelly Collection of American Illustration Art, will discuss the process of building a world-class illustration collection, and the lives and art of the field's most celebrated practitioners. Free for members, or with general Museum admission.
"An Evening in the Classroom with Illustrator Harvey Dunn," Saturday, January 16, 5:30 p.m. Visitors will meet illustrator Harvey Dunn (portrayed by painter/interpreter Dan Howe), a larger-than-life artist and teacher who will share his philosophy and extol the virtues of a life in art.  Fee.
"The Teachings of Harvey Dunn," Saturday, March 5, 5:30 p.m. Visitors will join George Fernandez, Assistant Professor and Visual Communications Chair at SUNY Farmingdale, for this fascinating look at the life and teachings of Harvey Dunn. A brilliant Golden Age illustrator, Dunn realized his full potential after practically applying the ideals taught to him by Howard Pyle, which were the bedrock of Dunn's own teachings. The careers of Dunn's most famous protégé, including Mead Schaeffer, Dean Cornwell, Harold Von Schmidt, and other, will be explored. Free for members, or with general Museum admission.



Painting Workshop Series

"Harvey Dunn: Lessons from His Classroom," Saturdays, February 6, 13, 20, 27, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Attendees will emulate the compositional and painterly techniques of master illustrator Harvey Dunn in this class focusing on the process of making successful pictures in the manner of the master. Illustrator Dan Howe will draw inspiration from Dunn's own philosophy and teachings to engage students in new ways of seeing and working. Light, color, form, and line will be discussed in sessions designed to help students of all levels of ability enhance their skills. Limited enrollment; advance registration required. A supply list will be provided. Fee.


Wall panel texts for the exhibition


Masters of The Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students (Introduction)
The most fruitful and worthwhile thing I have ever done has been to teach."
-- Harvey Dunn
The Norman Rockwell Museum and South Dakota Art Museum are honored to present the first major exhibition celebrating the art and legacy of American illustration master, Harvey Dunn. A brilliant and prolific illustrator of America's Golden Age, Dunn was a prodigy of legendary artist Howard Pyle, and an admired teacher in his own right.
Born on a homestead near Manchester, South Dakota, Dunn left the farm to study at the South Dakota Agricultural College and the Chicago Art Institute before becoming one of Pyle's most accomplished students -- along with N.C. Wyeth and Frank E. Schoonover -- and eventually opened his own studios in Wilmington, Delaware, and in Leonia and Tenafly, New Jersey. Dunn's desire to share his artistic knowledge with the next generation was central to his practice and personal vision. He mentored thousands of artists at the Leonia School of Illustration, which he co-founded, and at the Grand Central School of Art, Pratt Institute, and the Art Students League, inspiring many of the twentieth century's most influential visual communicators.
In addition to his richly painted illustrations for the periodicals of his day, including Scribner's, Harper's, Collier's Weekly, Century, Cosmopolitan, and The Saturday Evening Post, the exhibition features Dunn's powerful work for the American Expeditionary Forces, which recorded the unforgettable realities of World War I. After the war, found solace in painting visions of the prairie inspired by boyhood memories and his life-long love of South Dakota's landscape and history. Among the masterworks in this exhibition are original paintings by Dunn's most prominent students, including James A. Allen, Harry Beckhoff, John Clymer, Dan Content, Mario Cooper, Wilmot Emerton Heitland, Walt S. Louderback, Henry C. Pitz, Arthur Sarnoff, Mead Schaeffer, Harold Von Schmidt, Frank Street, and Saul Tepper, who went on to achieve successful careers as illustrators themselves. Speaking in clear and direct terms, as he was known to do, Dunn urged his students to maintain the passion that first led them to a life in art. When he died in 1952, his New York Times obituary announced his passing with the headline, Harvey Dunn, 68, Artist, Teacher, reflecting upon his dedication to his art and his strong belief in the value of sharing one's knowledge for the benefit of others.
Harvey Dunn and the American Expeditionary Forces Art Program
"The pictures which I am delivering are of not specific place or organization and while [they] may be lacking in fact, are not however barren of truth insofar as I have succeeded in expressing in them the character of the struggle and the men engaged."
-- Harvey Dunn
Chaired by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, the Pictorial Publicity Division of the Committee on Public Information was formed in April 1917, one month after America entered World War I. Working through the Society of Illustrators in New York, Gibson gathered a battalion of volunteer artists to design publicity posters and materials promoting the war effort. In June of that year, eight artists, including Harvey Dunn, were selected to join the American Expeditionary Forces at the front lines. Their goal was to record battlefield action and created galvanizing images that would appeal to the public and inspire the purchase of Liberty Bonds.
Commissioned as a Captain in the Engineer Reserve Corps, Harvey Dunn was thirty-three years old at the time and had no previous military training. Stationed at Neufchateau, France, he brought along a sketch box of his own design, fitted with drawing paper on a cylindrical scroll that allowed him to move more easily from one drawing to the next. Attached to Company A of the 167th Infantry, he faced fire himself and recorded the men's struggles and casualties first-hand. These pressures left little time to finish works or send art back to the United States for publication as intended. Artists expected to have time to paint and draw from their rough sketches once retired from duty, but after the Armistice, the military's interest in the project waned.
Discharged in April 1919, Dunn returned home on the U.S.S. North Carolina, and would ultimately complete thirty-three paintings based upon his wartime experiences. Rather than focusing only on the drama of soldiers in action that had been envisioned by the military, Dunn faithfully recorded a full spectrum of emotions and experiences in his art, which is powerful, empathetic, and heartfelt. In 1928, Dunn completed several of his war compositions for The American Legion Monthly, which published his dramatic portrayals inspired by first-hand experience on its covers.
Harvey Dunn: The Artist as Illustrator
"When doing an illustration, the first step is to feel your subject, then the idea, and last the composition."
-- Harvey Dunn
The years before the first World War were the most prolific for Harvey Dunn as an illustrator of the covers and pages of America's most prominent publications -- from Harper's Magazine and Collier's Weekly to Scribner's and The Saturday Evening Post. His professional career was launched in Wilmington, Delaware in 1906 after two years of study with illustrator Howard Pyle, and he continued on this path with somewhat less enthusiasm after his time as an embedded artist with the World War I American Expeditionary Forces. Scarred by his battlefield experiences, and disappointed that he was decommissioned before his wartime paintings could be completed, he found it difficult to regain his pre-war enthusiasm for illustrating fiction.
Working more broadly and with greater spontaneity after the war, Dunn eventually regained his equilibrium, and went on to create published illustrations filled with color and life. Early twentieth century advancements in color printing technology made it possible for illustrators to share the full range of their skills in publication, and Dunn embraced this opportunity. Teaching was always a stabilizing force for the artist, who preferred the activity of the classroom to teaching privately from his studio. He returned from his wartime commission to find that some of his students, including Dean Cornwell, Frank Street, and Mead Schaeffer, had become regular contributors to The Post, limiting his own opportunities there. Exploring new prospects, he accepted fiction assignments for The Country Gentleman and popular women's magazines, including Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, and Cosmopolitan.
Remembering the South Dakota Prairie
"Oh, I have lived in a beautiful world and have known the warmth of much human kindness. The native sweetness of people clutches at my very heart."
-- Harvey Dunn
In his youth, Harvey Dunn longed to explore the world and move beyond his roots in rural South Dakota -- a buffalo trail ran north of his home in the Dakotah Territory. "There I lived until I was seventeen years old, and the buffalo trail was plowed under," he recalled. "When the glimmering along the horizon got too much for me, I set out to find the shining places which must exist beyond it somewhere."
A natural interpreter of Western stories and scenes throughout his illustration career, he began to look at the prairie differently in mid-life. Annual family trips back to South Dakota from his adopted home in New Jersey inspired memories of the past and a sense of nostalgia for the simple, rugged life that he once lived. Among his most powerful and heartfelt works, Dunn's prairie paintings are the pride of South Dakota. The dignity of hard work, man's struggle against nature's harshest conditions, the strength of prairie women and children, the plowing of untouched earth for agriculture, and life's quiet pleasures are among the themes that he returned to time and again in this memorable series of works.
Harvey Dunn and His Students
"He was a hard taskmaster, and I would go home from an afternoon with him almost in tears because of his criticism. But he taught me that being an artist wasn't easy."
-- Harriet Brown Preston, Tenafly, New Jersey
For more than a quarter century, from 1915 until World War II, Harvey Dunn made teaching an integral part of his life and his illustration practice. Reflecting his teacher Howard Pyle's approach to instruction, he was a passionate advocate for his students and taught hundreds of artists, many of whom went on to become successful illustrators as well. An accomplished technician, he was not solely concerned with the teaching of technique in the classroom. Rather, he offered a philosophy of art that encouraged students to embrace the spirit, emotion, and dedication that makes one's greatest work possible.
Through the years, Dunn mentored students at his Leonia School of Illustration and Tenafly, New Jersey studio, and at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute in New York. His devotion to teaching even led him to present an evening class at the Tenafly's public schools, but his most prodigious work as an educator was done at the Grand Central School of Art. Established in 1923 by the Grand Central Art Galleries, it was one New York's largest art schools, occupying seven thousand square feet on the seventh floor of Grand Central Terminal.
It was there, in 1934, that Dunn's comments and critiques were captured in An Evening in the Classroom, a slim volume of notes taken by Miss Taylor, who attended one of his painting classes, and printed "at the instigation of Mario Cooper," one of Dunn's admiring students. His commentary reveals his presence as an inspirational but demanding figure who was determined to prepare his students for the realities of life as professional artists. After more than twenty years, the Grand Central School of Art ceased operation in 1944, bringing Dunn's formal career as an educator to a close. Dean Cornwell, a noted illustrator, was one of Dunn's earliest students and a fellow teacher at the Grand Central School of Art. "Perhaps the most valuable thing that Dunn taught us," Cornwell said, "was an honest dealing with our fellow men and a constant gratitude to the Maker above for the privilege of seeing the sun cast shadows."
Portraits and Figure Studies
"Look at the model, get a quick impression, then paint the impressionit's the character of the think you want."
-- Harvey Dunn
In addition to his many commissioned works and busy teaching schedule, Harvey Dunn made time to create personal paintings that allowed him to experiment with color, light, and composition, and work solely for personal enjoyment. Some of these paintings were created in concert with a small coterie of students, who visited his studio on Saturdays, sometimes with a model in tow who would pose for the group. The best effort of the day was rewarded with a unique prize -- the opportunity to wear a derby hat, which Dunn often claimed. For these sessions, Dunn often reused one of his previous canvases, revealing image fragments beneath the new layer of pigment. Several hues were sometimes applied in single brush strokes, and painterly techniques were used to explore new ways of working.
Dunn was also commissioned to paint formal portraits that offered psychological perspectives on his sitters. He also portrayed his relatives, friends, and fellow artists in more informal stances, emphasizing innate gestures that seem natural to each individual.
Dedicated to the art of illustration in all its variety, Norman Rockwell Museum is honored to present Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students in collaboration with the South Dakota Art Museum. We would like to extend heartfelt thanks to our exhibition sponsor, First Bank & Trust, for their generous support of this project.
Sincere appreciation goes to South Dakota Art Museum Director Lynn Verschoor; Coordinator/Curator of Exhibitions Jodi Lundgren; and Coordinator/Curator of Collections Lisa Scholten, for their unwavering enthusiasm and professionalism throughout the planning process. Their stewardship of Harvey Dunn's legacy and the exceptional paintings in their collection have made this exhibition possible.
We are grateful to our lenders, whose collections are testament to Dunn's accomplishments and influence. Richard Kelly, owner of The Kelly Collection of American Illustration, has generously supported this effort with significant loans that reflect each artist's highest achievement. We are also grateful for Elizabeth Alberding's expert and gracious assistance in her role as Collections Manager of The Kelly Collection of American Illustration. Outstanding original artworks were also provided by Illustrated Gallery, Courtesy of Jordan Berman and Holly Berman; The Eisenstat Collection of Illustration, Courtesy of Alice Carter and Courtney Granner; and Carol and Murray Tinkelman, who have established a significant body of information relating to the art of illustration through their work as collectors and connoisseurs.
-- Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, Deputy Director/Chief Curator, Norman Rockwell Museum
Walt Reed (1917-2015)
Illustration Historian, Author, Scholar
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Walt Reed, a renowned scholar, author, and art historian. Walt dedicated much of his life to the advancement of scholarship relating to American illustration, heightening awareness of an influential but understudied art form that may never have gained recognition if not for his foresight and passion.
Through Walt's generous encouragement, other fortunate individuals have been able to forge careers as curators and historians, or as enthusiastic collectors of the art of illustration. His writings, which reflect his vast knowledge about the history of illustration and individual American illustrators, have established a significant base of information, spurring widespread appreciation and understanding. Walt's 2010 book, Harvey Dunn: Illustrator and Painter of the Pioneer West, was an important resource for this project. His work has been particularly inspirational for all of us at the Norman Rockwell Museum, who have benefited from his knowledge and expertise, and remember him as an exceptional gentleman and one of the kindest people on earth.

Extended art object labels for the exhibition

To view extended art object labels for the exhibition, please click here.


(above: Harvey Dunn (1884-1952), Empty Rooms, 1938. Story illustration for "Leave the Past Behind" by Frederick Merrill Tibbott, The Saturday Evening Post, May 21, 1938. Oil on canvas. South Dakota Art Museum Collection., Gift of Marion J. Kaye in memory of her mother, Helen M. Kerns.)


(above: Harvey Dunn (1884-1952), Rich and Strange, 1923. Story illustration for "Rich and Strange" by Edith Barnard Delano, Ladies' Home Journal, September 1923. Oil on canvas. The Kelly Collection of American Illustration Art.)


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