Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on December 10, 2007 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 Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.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.


WESTERN ART: Never Replaced by Soup Cans, Soup Lines or Soup Itself

By Roger Dunbier, PhD (1934-1998)


There had never been anything like it before and there would never be anything like it again, and what's more they knew it.  They were very much right and wrong as they always were.  In four years it did happen all over again in the Cherokee Strip.

It was high noon April 22, 1889, and the race was on to stake land claims in the Oklahoma Territory.  President Harrison had made the decision to open lands to white settlement that had formerly been officially reserved for Indians.  A kind of mad scrambling charge resulted in disappointment and violence as the participants discovered in outrage that "Sooners" had entered the territory already, preempting their dreams as well as the land, land which had for two-hundred centuries been Indian territory.

In these two short paragraphs describing one of the very last and most formalized assaults on the yet to be turned earth of the pioneer West, are all of the elements that constitute the frontier image.  We have the hardy landsmen staking out a farm or small ranch where he can build that little house and raise his family closer to God whose country this surely would be.  There is the image of the footloose independent seeker of ever new horizons fleeing the artificial and corrupting boundaries of an increasingly urbanized East, where being a 'Sooner' is frowned upon.  The riotous aftermath that took place in the tent towns of Guthrie and Oklahoma City represents no more than the inevitable absence of order; the excitement of conflict on a frontier liberated from the normal constraints of an overburdening civilization.  Not to be forgotten in the hurly burly of the hour was the sought after red soil itself, reaching out to the rolling hills making that day and every other day a beautiful landscape to behold.  And finally the Native Americans, the 'noble savage', who once again stood aside allowing the inevitable to transpire.

These five enduring themes encompass the great mine from whence almost all the raw material comes for western art.  Add to this mix the thesis that the frontier experience was unique and had a basically positive influence on the development of democracy in America, and you have the epic of our time and place.

As Westerners, we are the heirs and guardians of this legend.  And although we find it increasingly difficult to articulate just what has been the social and economic significance of the frontier on American life as a whole, there is no doubt about is significance here in the West.  No matter how much the eastern half of this country has abandoned the reality and lore of this ever new world of the frontier, we have not and cannot.  We continue to recognize in picture the enormous part played by this great land and its diverse people seeking diverse goals, assured in their direction because changing times do not alter the western myth.  It holds.  The land, the frontier, the Native American and the pioneer remain a central preoccupation of the artist and I believe rightly so.  It has never been replaced by anyone else's interest in portraying soup cans, soup lines or soup itself.  

Although major themes and a smattering of names set the standard for western art, for the moment it can be said that the great majority of what distinguishes art in the West is the portrayal of major themes by painters in an uninterrupted descent from the earliest days.  Their themes or subject matter categories come very close to defining what is commonly called 'Western Art'.  That many of the painters are not well known to the public at large is in one way a tribute to their numbers.  More than this, it is a tribute to the Great West itself, a country so magnificent that hundreds of excellent painters have been enticed and then swallowed.  They are waiting re-discovery of God's country.

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


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 21,357 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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