Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on October 10, 1999 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 Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.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.


Bale Art-Spaghetti Westerns

By Roger Dunbier (1934-1998)


Some things stick in one's mind for what seems to be no good reason.  A time, a place when you first heard of something - it keeps coming back, and then, much later the reason for that image, indeed the reason you remembered it at all occurs.  It all comes clear.

This sequence began for me when one day in London in the late 1950s I bought a copy of Time magazine.  In it there was an article about Western films being churned out in Italy. They were termed "Spaghetti Westerns," and as I vaguely remember reference was made to an up and coming actor named Clint Eastwood.  It was one of those moments of supreme inconsequentiality that for no particular reason brought me up short. Impossible. They can't do this. It can't be. Let a Swedish speaking Zapata exhort the long-suffering "campesions" to acts of impossible heroism against the Yugoslav cavalry outside Belgrade, all of that, anything, but don't let them make "Westerns" in Rome. This was sacrilege beyond belief.  

That moment in the train at Paddington Station, frozen in time, came back to me on several occasions.  It was for no good reason, possibly just a notice about Eastwood or the term "Spaghetti Western." I thought of how an American in England felt about some foreigners re-concocting our West and then to beat all, sell it back to us.

It had to have been ten years before this same disquietude overtook me coming from an entirely different angle.  I was in a hotel lobby in Anaheim looking at a placard advertising an itinerant art show in one of the public rooms. So why not take a look at whatever sofa-size paintings were being offered.  Sometimes they sold frames, and I needed one.

Upon entering the gallery, I was struck by this feeling akin to "déjà vu."  There it was, not quite the size of a sofa, but large enough to show all too distinctly a cowboy throwing a rope over a longhorn.  Right there, along with a quasi-Utrillo Montmartre scenes and the crenelated Neuswanzstein, leaning against the wall next to the birds-eye view of the Ponte Vecchio was this cowboy holding a rope.  Poisonous vinagaroons, they were at it again.  

The painting factories of Europe had discovered the West.  "Déjà Vu!"

Now bale painting had in itself always been a curiosity to behold.  For those not familiar with the term "bale," a definition is in order. There are, I am told (and like cannibalism has been verified by second and third parties unwilling to admit their participation) lofts in Paris, Antwerp, and Milan, etc., where several painters combine their talents to produce scenes painted on uncut rolls of canvas unwound from giant spools and scroll-like, rewound again - hundreds of paintings in continuous progression, on another spool.  They are then loaded aboard freighters and shipped to Hoboken or some such port of entry where these bales are cut apart. Hence "bale painting."

From this point forward, the pictures are merchandised much as if they were lamp shades or umbrellas with some distinctions.  This latter would include when and where the canvases are stretched and framed, which might occur at dock side or purchase or somewhere in between.

Economically (and this is, of course, what bale painting is all about) the governing principal is to keep the merchandise moving out.  From the port of entry, some of the more "fashionable" stuff goes to prominent dealers, such as Circle Galleries, which are located in the larger cities. If these pictures are not sold within a period of weeks, they are "job-lotted" out to the regional galleries that specialize in this sort of thing. Here sellers represent them as not only great art from Europe but sometimes even push a New York or San Francisco connection.  

These entrepreneurs also do not wait for that last myopic customer, but "wholesale" them again perhaps to some itinerant who goes on the road with them, usually to smaller and more isolated places where motels provide sales rooms.

This remoteness factor may not always be the case, as these new merchandisers often make a loop back into the largest cities where their work is not quite as "fashionable" as it once was, but a great deal cheaper.  But hold on, the final destination of the unsold is not yet reached.  It may be a huge depot-type operation that collects these well-traveled rejects and advertises them on late night television at what are in fact remarkably low prices. In these depots, they join some of the truly second class efforts, which are probably right off the boat.  And this yet may not be the end of the journey for I have seen some numerously stretched and re-stretched canvases being sold to tourists in Mexican border towns right alongside the "day glow" portraits of Elvis rendered on velvet.  

Oh the ignominy of that which has fallen from fashion.

As one might conjecture, there are numerous variations on this bale-pushing theme.  One of them is the "famous name" bale import, but this technique only marginally concerns us if we're talking about traditional art because this highly publicized dauber usually is a modernist.  

For those of us who prefer something a little closer to nature, it is alas, as it is in so much else, the islands off China which will fulfill our unmet needs for "Western" hotel-room art.  Day and night in the attics of Hong Kong and Taiwan the lie is put to Kipling as the "East masters the Western."  Those repetitive details of saddle and spur which the more literal among us so demand are just the kind of tedium close to the heart of the Oriental.

Edited and submitted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, wife of the artist, who holds the copyright.
Copyright © 1999 Lonnie Pierson 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


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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