Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on July 31, 1997 in Resource Library with permission of the author. Prepared for the column Dunbier on Fine Art Valuation, Dr. Dunbier writes on issues regarding the valuation of fine art. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Lonnie Pierson Dunbier in Scottsdale, AZ, at ldunbier@mac.com.


Something Should Be Done

By Roger Dunbier, PhD


I grew up in an artist's studio. My father, Augustus Dunbier, took up painting in 1907 and continued in that endeavor for sixty-five years, principally in Omaha, Nebraska. He was born on a central Nebraska farm about ten years after his father turned over the prairie grass for the first time. My father's formal art education was highlighted by seven years at the Royal Art Academy, Dusseldorf. He also attended the Chicago Art Institute where he became a close friend of Walter Ufer, who, in 1919, persuaded my father to come to Taos, something he then did almost every summer.

As a child I traveled with my father and mother on summer field painting trips to both coasts, the Southwest and Mexico. I witnessed hundreds of paintings in the making and heard seemingly endless discussion about techniques and quality. Later I spent a good deal of time with my parents in Europe, where art museums were always on the itinerary. I have childhood memories of visiting Taos artists in their studios there, artists such as Leon Gaspard, Joseph Henry Sharp, and I. Eanger Couse. To me at that time, these were just old men who were friends of my father.

It was my good fortune to obtain a post-graduate Marshall Scholarship to Oxford University in England, where I spent the better part of seven years obtaining three degrees including the doctorate. These degrees were in the fields of geography and economics--I inherited only minimal amounts of my father's artistic talents! My Ph D dissertation, now a published book, was on the Sonoran Desert.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, I became interested in the computer, particularly in its ability to store and manipulate huge amounts of data. In 1963, I moved to Arizona, and I have continued to live there with the exception of a few years in Nebraska where I taught at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and in southern California where I was a professor of geography at the University of California-Irvine.

My first hands-on experience with computers was in 1963 while employed by a major bank research department. In the years that followed, as an independent researcher, I developed several applications in the area of computerized mapping and real estate values. With a colleague, I created the first computerized multiple listing program--its descendant now in use across the country.

Currently I live with my wife, Lonnie, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and both of us are employed full time in the business of American fine art.

Fifteen years ago, I had an idea. It was 1982, and even though I had grown up in the art business, I had never given any concentrated thought to what constituted monetary value in fine art beyond the most apparent vagaries, realities and clichés of supply and demand. In that year, it became apparent to me that in this country there existed nothing remotely resembling a comprehensive reliable informational system of any kind wherein independent unbiased estimates of value could be established.

For art prices, reliance upon indexes of art auction-prices-realized in book forms was usually incremented by telephone calls to experts who would provide anecdotal data. All but a few living artist's prices were in the main established through these two methods. Artists that were and are principally resident in mid-continent America seldom had works in major auction houses. Numerous very good early day painters almost never had paintings come up for sale at auction. For these, guess-work was too much the order of the day.

Something should be done.

No comprehensive system of inter-artist comparability existed. Very little or usually no use was made of comparables, so indispensable to real estate appraisal. Museum and gallery catalogues, coffee table and art reference books as well as monographs upon which artist name values are grounded were not taken into measured calculation at all.

In the year 1982, no system in the true sense of that word existed, even in an embryonic form. It was then that I decided to do something about this circumstance. One of the first things I did was acquire a skillful programmer, Charles Lefebvre, who has been with me from this earliest time.

Now, the solution did not arrive all at once but evolved over the first ten years or so. The problems that presented themselves lay in several areas:

It is now fifteen years later. It is ninety-thousand hours of systems design, programming and data entry later. It is also hundreds of good ideas, some discarded, and many successful NEWSBook publications later. Very importantly, while we worked here at ENCompass, computer manufacturers were also busy, and their machines' capacities kept getting larger while getting ever smaller and more affordable.

All of this means that in 1997 we are making available a vest-pocket computer programmed with our Top Collectible 13,000 American painters. With this, you can obtain, in a matter of minutes, all the information you need for a valid price estimate. Independent of a telephone line or a book from the shelf, it is a take-it anywhere package. It is called smART WALK.

Something has been done...


Roger Dunbier demonstrating the smART WALK device; paintings by Augustus Dunbier in background


© 1997 Roger 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

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