Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on April 28, 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 Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Youth With Western Artists
"As you can see, unless the child was brought up by wolves, it is a virtual impossibility to have avoided the West as pictured by its artists."
By Roger Dunbier, PhD (1934-1998)
To have been a child in America and not have been influenced by the western artists that I am writing about is an improbability of the first magnitude. It would have been a youth without seeing a dime novel illustrated by Nick Eggenhofer or a Saturday Evening Post by WHD Koerner or Harold Von Schmidt. It would have meant a history class without a book with illustrations by Frederick Remington, the brothers Waud; or incredibly Thomas Nast. This would have been a youth without Will James' Smoky, which he, of course, both wrote and illustrated. It would have been a youth without a Zane Gray story and its illustrations by Frank Tenney Johnson or Charles Andres. There would have been no National Geographics with their George Catlins or Thomas Morans. It would have been no haircuts because seemingly every barbershop had a calendar by Charles Russell or E. I. Couse. It would probably have meant no funny pages where Fred Harman's Red Ryder could have ambushed us youngsters. He could never have, on mom's instructions, fetched dad from the local bar where he would surely have caught a glimpse of one of the many Custer's Last Stands' that decorated so many saloon walls. As you can see, that unless the child was brought up by wolves, it is a virtual impossibility to have avoided the West as pictured by its artists.
On the other hand, I, the hypothetical youth, would most likely have grown to adulthood without coming across a book or even an article about one of these pioneer artists who did so much to form the picture we have of our Western frontier. As one can surmise by scanning the publication dates of many of the books published so far, there was very little written prior to 1960. The reasons for this are many and subject to conjecture. The American public was first too busy winning the West and then looking at the pictures of that event to bother itself much with any concern over who were these artists responsible for its images. Secondly, Americans were led to believe that their native born artists were somehow inferior to Europeans and the wealthy were backing that conception by importing tons of paintings, good, bad and fake. These European painters received most of the attention of the writers who concerned themselves with matters artistic. And finally one must look to the advent of so called 'modern' art to understand why the stories of these painters and illustrators never made the bottom shelf if written at all. The younger reader may never fully understand this for one had to have lived through a decade like the fifties to appreciate the deprecation of the real, which accompanied the elevation of the concocted.
The result of this neglect is that those of us who can remember where we were on that Sunday in 1941 have been exposed to a kind of cultural ambiguity that may just now be coming to an end. We had a very highly developed perception of the West as portrayed by Catlin, Stanley, Gaul, Zogbaum and the others (detailed and embellished by Tom Mix and Randolph Scott) while at the same time knowing next to nothing about some of these quite intrepid artists. A glance at a list of books about early day artists (those born prior to 1900) shows a neglect of decades that may take decades to rectify. It seems likely that a sizable minority, perhaps even a majority of these neglected artists will yet find their biographers. This can be said with some degree of certainty as even those painters who led very pedestrian lives left us with the most magnificent canvases. Where the lettered page fails the four-color press prevails.
Of course, the book detailing the life of the individual artist is not the only means of filling the information void. The books that focus upon several artists who were associated in time and place have been a particularly popular medium in recent years. To date, the little town of Taos along with nearby Santa Fe have received the most attention by authors choosing to tell the story of artists painting the West. Other areas are beginning to show up, however, with books about painters of Montana, Texas, Utah and Southern California prominently included. More will follow.
Categories of books written so far are those that focus on single artists; those that deal with several artists; those attempting to cover the entire subject of western art; those that focus on specific geographical areas, sometimes within well defined periods of time, and referencing towns, states or regions such as deserts; those about unique subjects such as cowboys or Indians; and reference works such as dictionaries, which when published, attempted some degree of comprehension.
Magazines offer another medium contributing to an explosion of information perhaps more energetic than books. Even newspapers with their Sunday supplements as well as television are part of the admixture highlighting salient contributions to this subject of 'western art'.
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.
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
Resource Library editor's note:
readers may also enjoy:
and for a complete listing of Roger Dunbier's articles please click here or here.
Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2008 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.