by Roger and Lonnie Dunbier
Augustus W. Dunbier (1888-1977) was a prolific oil painter, well known for his colorful landscapes, still life, portraits and figures. Most viewers would describe his work as Impressionism because of his brushwork, ability to capture brief moments in time, and the changing effects of light and color. But hating labels of any kind, he never used that term to describe himself.
He was a long time resident of Omaha, Nebraska, but traveled and painted widely throughout the United States, Europe, and Mexico.
Certain pioneering aspects contribute to his unique career:
Born on a Polk County farm near Stromsburg, Dunbier, at age sixteen, moved with his parents to Germany, where during his studies, 1907-1914, at the Royal Academy, he associated with many noted artists working in Europe at that time. His primary instructor at the Academy was Adolf Munzer, a prominent Impressionist.
In 1915, Dunbier returned to the United States and served in the US Army Camouflage Corps. After World War I, he spent a year on the East Coast, painting with George Luks and Robert Spencer, another Nebraska-born artist whom he joined at the artist colony in New Hope, Pennsylvania. In the early 1920s, he spent a summer painting in Alaska, and when he heard the Pan-American Highway had been completed to Mexico City, he was on the road. He returned there a number of times with artist friends or with his family.
Dunbier painting portrait of Laura Franklin of Omaha, NE
As the years passed, Dunbier visited and revisited just about every corner of North America, painting the mountains of Montana and Colorado, the coasts and harbors of Massachusetts and Oregon, and the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. From 1953 to 1970, he spent all but two winters painting landscapes in and around Tucson and Phoenix, which meant a diminishment of his popular Nebraska snow scenes.
Right: Dunbier's stationery; Left: Self Portrait, 34 x 26 inches
The majority of his landscapes, numbering over a thousand, were painted close to home in Nebraska where he loved the hills and trees, lakes and rivers, farm scenes and cityscapes. His canvases are testimony to the fact that Nebraska provided more than enough excellent vistas for the trained and experienced eye without the need to either disparage or embellish.
Known as a colorist, his paintings are characterized by assertive, contrasting colors and bold brushwork. His landscapes were both realistic and capturing of intangibles such as season, temperature, time of day, atmospheric light, and impending weather. Dunbier completed most of these landscapes "en plein air," entirely out-of-doors, taking no more than several hours for each work.
Dunbier painting "en plein aire" in 1945
Dunbier, whose friends called him "Gus," had a prestigious reputation as an art instructor and during his long life, taught numerous workshops and classes in Omaha and other communities throughout the Midwest. A tall, pipe smoking, angular man with a unique sense of humor and an ability to tell an entertaining story, Gus was popular with aspiring artists.
Right: 1940 WPA class
One of his long time students, Jane Scott, wrote of his field trip teaching methods: "When we arrived at the landscape spot that we had chosen, we would each set up, and Gus would stop at each easel to see that everyone got started right. I still remember many of the comments Gus would make as we painted. "You want to paint the mood of the day. Painting is like music, you need to orchestrate it. If it's rainy day, paint the silvery effect of the day. If it's a sunny day, paint the warm effect of the light. Don't paint what you see, . . . It's a matter of attitude, you manipulate the colors in order to create the mood." (Augustus Dunbier, Exhibition Catalog, Museum of Nebraska Art, April-June, 1994).
In this same exhibition catalog, long-time student and close friend, Alton Larsen, recalled words that Dunbier uttered repeatedly in painting classes: "Paint for the Love of Color" ['Gus was a colorist. I know of no painter, past or present, who knew more about color. ...He used color notes as a composer uses musical notes']. Left: Lou and A.W. Dunbier
"Get it Keyed In!" ['Gus was emphatic that the first few strokes on a canvas set the tone or key']
"Put some Love Into It!" ['Gus felt it was necessary to reach deep within oneself and put one's feeling into the work'].
"Paint Carelessly Careful." [...'be careful about color, value, composition and draftsmanship but careless with application'].
"Catch That Will-O-The Wisp" ['In painting a landscape, he always worked on location. . .. Waving a long arm out toward the subject, he would say to a student, 'If you can't paint it with all of this hanging out there at the end of your nose, how do you expect to do it better back in your basement?'].Right: Dunbier in studio, 1972
"There Is No Color Without Light." ['Play the light against the shadow; the warm against the cool; atmosphere, moisture and distance all have their effect on the intensity and quality of color'].
"I Do Not Paint For Posterity." ['In spite of the fact that he often made this declaration, Gus Dunbier left the world a great wealth of art'].
Left: Dunbiedr painting portrait of son, Roger, 1936
Paintings by Augustus Dunbier are in numerous private and corporate collections and museums including the Joslyn Art Museum, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and the Museum of Nebraska Art. During his sixty-two year professional career, painting several paintings a week, he held to his own course, undistracted by fads and progressing steadily from canvas to canvas portraying what is now, in retrospect, a quite marvelous variety of subjects and styles.
Feature articles on Augustus Dunbier can be found in Western Art Digest, Jan/Feb 1987, Vol. XIV, No. 1 and Southwest Art, March 1989, Vol. 18, No. 10. For over 50 years, he was listed in Who's Who in American Art.
Right: Dunbier in his studio-home, 914 N. 49th Avenue, Omaha, 1960; Lower left: Mrs. Leon Flaska of McCook with her portrait
He is also referenced in Artists of the American West, Doris Dawdy; Art Across America, William Gerdts, Index of Artists, Daniel Mallett; The Society of lndependent Artists by Clark Marlor; Mantle Fielding Dictionary, Glenn Opitz; A Survey of Nebraska Art, Kearney State College; Nebraska 75, Joslyn Art Museum; and Augustus W Dunbier, Museum of Nebraska Art.
About the Authors:
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.
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
The Museum of Nebraska Art has a biography of Augustus Dunbier at its website.
Museum exhibitions: Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA June 19 - July 23, 1999; Van Vechten-Lineberry Taos Art Museum, Taos, NM, Mar. 10 through Jun 18, 2000; Phippen Museum, Prescott, AZ April 28 - July, 22, 2001; Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX, June-Septmber, 2001, Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearny, NE, September 23 - December 9, 2001. A later exhibition was held at The Center for Great Plains Studies.
Read La Plaza's biography and timeline for the artist. Also see Travels with Gus, essay by Josephine Martins (9/18/01) and Augustus Dunbier: Paint for the Love of Color; essay by Lonnie Dunbier (3/18/04)
Nebraska Public Television maintains a web page that archives "MONA Moments on Nebraska Public Radio." which are written and narrated by Ron Roth, the director of the Museum of Nebraska Art. The NPTV web site says that the MONA Moments "...are designed to "educate and inform NPR listeners on Nebraska's visual art heritage, and to promote MONA." As of October 2004 there were 70 archived Moments on the NPTV web site. Each Moment has a separate web page containing a link to enable the viewer to replay the audio broadcast, a complete transcript of the audio, plus a small image of the art subject being covered. The thumbnail image is linked to a larger image with a caption on a separate page. The texts are from about 400 to 700 words in length. An example is Augustus Dunbier
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