Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on August 13, 2001 in Resource Library with permission of Lonnie Pierson Dunbier. The article is an excerpt from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.  Dated 1982, the original typewriter manuscript is owned by his wife, Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, who edits and submits the chapters to TFAO. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Lonnie Pierson Dunbier in Scottsdale, AZ, at ldunbier@mac.com.


Art Is Long, Décor Short

(Way Out West)

By Roger Dunbier (1934-1998)


Art or so called art, measured by the tonnage delivered to households in that wide country where Western paintings constitute a considerable market is very large. Western paintings and drawings as a percentage of the total delivery by weight, are however, small and often minuscule of quality. Much of the responsibility for this low quality can be placed at the feet of interior designers, known by most of us as decorators.

In their marketing priorities, too many decorators put the placing of original art in their clients' rooms well below the more available print. And, when the prospective allocation of dollars is presented to the client, both original art and prints usually find their way into a position below furniture and carpeting.

Now this inferior status is both good and bad, the good being the inferred proposition that the client is being left some small area in which to exercise his or her own taste and interest. The best scenario would be a priority so precariously low that any and all decorated-selected 'wall coverings' might fall off the list entirely and the wall abandoned to the customer's discretion.

The worst is more common when some 'just marvelous blue accent' (pronounced accident), sized 54 double XX long million reproduction, in four colors, mainly the above, ends up on your wall and remains, turning your brown eyes blue for twenty years because you don't own a closet large enough to hold it and you know that a reputable dealer will laugh himself sick if you present it there for sale. And multiplied a thousand times over, this circumstance is a disaster for artists living and dead, heirs, and assigns, but more so for the rest of us who visit your homes and offices. I wonder how much consideration is given by the designer at the conversational value of the blue 'accident' vis-a-vis a painting by William Penhallow Henderson or a sketch by E Martin Hennings that just screams New Mexico and your trip there last summer.

The personal experiences of this writer show that indifference, negligence, and even fear surround and smother any constructive relationship between decorator, client and the interests of original art. This neglect is carried right down to the failure of many decorators to consider leaving options (wall space) open for the future placement of paintings. The art of the West very often merits close examination under the best lights such as 'track' systems provide, and these seldom are included in proposals.

But please, don't take it from me; ask you friends, ask yourself, "Has any designer or architect made inquiries, shown particular interest in or about your existing collection or your future acquisition plans? Has he or she left me any wall? And what kind of light is there on that wall?" This could be carried further to a not uncommon extreme, "Does the decorator denigrate what you have; are those inherited landscapes of Yosemite shoved in the corner?" Check out your decorator, and don't be too quick in letting that person have that old Paul Lauritz or Frank Sauerwein in trade because they don't fit the decorator's projected color scheme.

The decorator is likely smart or wouldn't have been hired by you, so why not issue a challenge to figure out a color scheme that compliments your treasured possessions. They have a lasting value of their own and should not be merged into a color scheme.

Finally there is the fear factor, which is probably closer to embarrassment. Don't let the decorator shame you by inferring that you're being old fashioned. If you were so fortunate to own a painting by Jan Vermeer or a Gustave Altdorfer, would the decorator call that dated, or say, "Get rid of it?" So don't let him or her talk you out of your old William Marple or Matilda Lotze. If there is any shame, it lies with the decorator who likely has never heard of either and doesn't even own a book that lists their names -- now that is shame!

These visual disasters, so far described, are however, not unmitigated, and this relief, as it often is, is provided by geography. Should you live in one of a very few of the larger cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, there are designers who work closely with galleries where they obtain some very good regional art reflecting the West. In this way, color scheme fetishes are satisfied by the good color to be found in many paintings whose color and other attributes stand on their own. Many art galleries have been stocked with the discards from old homes and obtained at prices their proprietors quite freely describe as "steals." Many of these "discards" were in turn generated by designers, who found these old pictures unharmonious, out of place, dated, and most of all too small.

Just think about that, let the mind dwell for a moment on the former owner in that old house who listened to the artistic advice of a decorator. That person did not understand that people are better bereft of advice than bereft of their inherited treasures.

Always remember, "art is long, décor short."

Edited and submitted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, wife of the artist, who holds the copyright.
Copyright © 2001 Lonnie Pierson Dunbier


About the Author:

From 1982, Dr. Roger Dunbier (1934-1998) combined his professional economics training, research skills, and love of art to develop an easily accessed, 'all-in-one-place' repository of factual information so that buyers and sellers of American art could make decisions based on hard-core data rather than just marketing hype.  With ever-more sophisticated computers, programmed by Charles Lefebvre, his long-time associate, Dunbier built an artist record database, which by the time he died 16 years later, had 17,000 names linked to their respective auction prices, literature and biographies.  Today the result of his dedication lives on as the foundation of AskART.com, an internet site since 2000.  

Dunbier's innovation of computer systems began in 1963, when he pioneered computer mapping on what were then relatively primitive computers.  In 1967, he utilized concepts of 'arbitrage' and 'comparables' in designing the first real estate Multiple Listing System.  Its direct descendent remains in use by realtors across the United States, and he later applied the same underlying principles in building his artist database.  (right: Roger Dunbier, photo courtesy Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, derived from a larger image at http://tfaoi.org/am/16am/16am17.jpg)

Dunbier was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska.  His interest in American art was natural because his father, Augustus Dunbier, (1888-1977) was a prominent landscape, still life and portrait painter and art teacher, whose studio and classroom were in the family home.   Although Roger showed few 'right brained' skills, he did have other talents.  He graduated first in his class and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Omaha in 1955 with majors in economics and history.   He then received a Marshall Scholarship, which led to enrollment at Oxford University in England from 1955 to 1959.  During that time, he was on the Oxford University basketball and track teams, and was a member of the British National Basketball Team.  In 1961, he received a Doctorate of Philosophy, Economic Geography from Oxford.  His dissertation, The Sonoran Desert, Its Geography, Economy, and People, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 1960, and subsequently used as a text book for college geography courses.

After formal education, Dunbier held full-time professorial positions for several years at the University of Omaha and the University of California-Irvine.  He lived most of the remainder of his life in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and had economic-geography related jobs including CEO of his management consulting firm that prepared demographic and locational studies; and President of Metro Press, Inc., publisher of over 100 computer generated area directories for Metro Phoenix.  In 1991, he married Lonnie Pierson of Lincoln, Nebraska.

-- By Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2008


About this article's editor

Lonnie Pierson Dunbier of Scottsdale, Arizona and originally from Nebraska, married Dr. Roger Dunbier in 1991. From then, she worked full time on his artist database. After his death, she co-founded AskART.com, for which she was Research Director from 2000 to 2007. Ms. Dunbier is also the editor of all other excerpts from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting


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