Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on March 1, 2008 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 Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.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.

Early Painters/Recent Painters

"Early painters were a pretty sturdy breed, but did not eat their meat raw"

By Roger Dunbier, PhD (1934-1998)

Western Painters under discussion are divided into two categories: Early Painters or artists actively engaged in painting the West prior to 1920, and Recent Painters, those whose first efforts were after 1920. After considerable deliberation, I chose that year because it has more than passing interest to serious collectors, particularly those looking for lasting values in their investment.

Why 1920?

1920 is the time half or nexus between 'us' and some preeminently important terminal events. If the painters who preceded Thomas Moran into the West but not to the brink of the Grand Canyon (he was the first in 1873) could without doubt be termed 'pioneer', what could those be called who followed him but were on the scene prior to 1920? They too penetrated valleys and wandered up box canyons that had never before been seen through the eye of an oil painter. They toted their watercolors up precipitous tracks and painted 'old baldy' for the first time 'from the back side'. They unpacked their kits, squeezing color onto the palette, to the infinite amusement of Indian and Mexican children, open mouthed and transfixed, who along with their parents had never seen this particular ritual before.

If being first, at least on a limited scene, connotes 'pioneer', then these artists of the mid decades of the Nineteenth century and first two or so of the Twentieth Century, were 'pioneer' in this limited sense.

For those painters who ventured from their studios, the journey West was almost always first by train, often to some rail head such as Great Falls, Billings, Tucson, Colorado Springs or Santa Fe, all achievable by the 1880s. It was then retention of a horse or mule with or without their guide-drivers. Provisions had to be purchased for whatever length of time was planned in the backcountry or needed to reach Hubbell's or some other trading post. This would include kerosene because there were no electric lights on the trees, and although these painters were obviously a prettysturdy breed, they did not eat their meat raw.

About 1905 or so, the first motor vehicles began to show up in the larger communities of the West, and some of these became available for hire. But a car, particularly these early models without a road, which was usually the case in roughest country, was next to useless -- so it was once again, 'get a horse', which these painters usually did.

In 1914, Ford made one million cars for the first time, while much of the world embarked on mass slaughter. Four years later the U.S. emerged from this conflict with the beginnings of a road network that could hold what Detroit was assembling. It was this transportation turning point more than anything else that terminated 'my' Early Period for western painters. In other words, my suggestion is that the extension of an adequate motor road network supplanting horse transportation in the remote districts of the West signaled an end to what is here termed the Early Period and marks a significant although approximate date in the history of Art in the West. It can be said that the truly pioneer period began to fade away little by little as the railways were extended and their meat hunters depleted the buffalo herds, and even more so as the Indian tribes retreated and died off. Subject matter literally disappeared. Bluecoated soldiers were withdrawn. Barbed wire cut off the trail drives. All the while there were more able hands willing to draw the familiar, but there was less of it to be sketched, which meant they began cannibalizing one another's subjects.

All this focus on the year 1920 is to this point manifestation of events external to the artist as this time reference also signaled a sea change in American life and the country's place in the world.

But attention to art and the artist taken in isolation, as much as that is possible, shows the beginning of the schismatic conditions that mark American painting from that year, 1920. A line drawn through 1920 divides an Early Period where I suggest the totality of American art talent was thrown against the problems posed by Realism, that is depicting the recognizable. After that time, fracture was manifest. Some of the talented young artists spent their entire maturity treating the 'unreal', never once producing anything recognizably the same in the mind's eye of any two viewers. Others vacillated, switching like 'army brats' from artistic school to school -- sometimes more real, sometimes less, sometimes nothing less than the storied 'explosion in a spaghetti factory'. Cubes, dribble, Op-and-Pop, intermingled with cows, clowns and barn doors. Some of us will seek out the cows; others say why bother.

Coincidental with a 1920 division between the Early and Recent when measured from the start of a painting career in the West, is an approximate 1900 birth date, should that artist have been a Westerner and actively pursuing a painting vocation on his twentieth birthday.

It must also be noted that selection of the year 1920 as the cut-off year for the western artists of this discussion means that most of them are deceased. But what will not change is the product of those eyes and hands that saw a world of alkalai-flat and snow-fed Sierra brooks before they ever saw an airplane, an automobile or even a screen door.

The important thing now for collectors is to differentiate between the real world that Richard Lorenz saw with his own eyes at the turn of the century and put on canvas at the time of seeing, and the manila folder world of clippings used by the nostalgia artist of today when he concocts something that was long gone at the time of his birth.

For this later born artist, particularly if he never works out of doors, it probably makes little difference if his address is Sedona, Arizona, or Scarsdale, New York, or for that matter, Stockholm or Singapore. Of even less significance, is whether or not he owns a turquoise belt buckle and can keep from falling from a saddle with or without pummel.

-- Edited and Submitted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier 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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