Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on July 18, 2000 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 Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.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 email@example.com.
WEST TO EAST: The "West" of Remington and Russell and those Omahans In-Between
By Roger Dunbier (1934-1998)
In describing works of art, time and place have traditionally provided the useful coordinates of understanding. The "Italian Renaissance" gives the reader place and time. "Late Nineteenth - Century English" does the same. Occasionally one word suffices, combining both time and place with even greater precision. "Quatrocento" and "Victorian" are examples of this verbal nexus where time and location cross in one word.
To the student who interests himself with these periods in the countries concerned, there should be some mental image retrievable when either of these words is combined, let us say, with "portrait painting." Ah yes, there it is, a magnificent portrait by Bellini, another by Whistler. A word fixes the coordinates in time and space giving us, eureka! an image.
We do it all the time. So why not establish some geographical and temporal limitations to the concept of Western Art, knowing that there will be exceptions, perhaps major exceptions, but nevertheless from this delineation proceed.
One of the unforgettable memories of my youth in Omaha was being lifted by my father to his shoulders so I could get the best possible view of the Golden Spike Day's parade. It was 1939, and I was five years old. It was the seventieth anniversary of that momentous event at promontory Point, Utah, when the rails were joined. It was also, not incidentally, the world premier of the motion picture "Union Pacific" with Barbara Stanwyck, et al in attendance. Everyone seemed to be in period costume; the men had grown beards. It had to have been the greatest promotional success to date as a city of considerable size had been completely suckered into the enterprise of ballyhooing a Hollywood Western.
And yet, it seemed to honor Omaha, the headquarters city of the railroad featured in the film's title and the city in turn had an opportunity to honor some of its old timers who were children when the Gold Spike was driven. There must have been a million free words of publicity for the film and another million words of self-congratulation to Omaha set in lead and distributed by the "World Herald" and other local newspapers.
The following line did not appear: "And California made and shaped this city just as sure as you're alive."
But in reality, it sure did. There I was at age five, destined to spend the next fifteen years in schools taking courses in American history, where the words marched from left to right across the printed page while pioneer types trudged from right to left across the maps.
Now with the notable exception of the Spanish and French pioneers, who often moved south to north and sometimes north to south, this east to west trudge had in general terms historical validity until a momentous event took place in 1848. Gold was discovered on a tributary of the Sacramento River. And from that time, it is true that much of that trudging continued, but it was just not the same.
What had until 1848 been a fairly even push West became pretty much overnight a jump and then a tug. An agricultural frontier advancing on a broad front from Minnesota through Iowa to eastern Texas was "upstaged" by economic events taking place far to the west.
The Great West, the West of Remington and Russell came into being that year when pull replaced push along a line a little east of the Missouri River.
This "new" or the Great West as it came to be called was the West of the mining camp, of long distances with no settlements, and of mounted Indians. Ox, mule, and horse-drawn immigrant trains and horse soldiers were needed to counter distance, drought, and the unpredictable native population and the intractable agents of isolation. Towns disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared when the shallow precious metal deposits were exhausted. Moreover, as mentioned before, settlement did not take place on an uninterrupted front moving West. Advance was spasmodic and intermittent. The direction was often eastward.
The settlement of Arizona and Nevada represents obvious examples of this west to east pattern. Both of these states, from the earliest days of Anglo settlement down to the present have received more immigrants from California than any other State. But the same could be said for much of Montana, Idaho, and even Colorado, as their mining camps opened up and settlers poured in from the depleted districts to the West. The railroads became overwhelmingly important as towns on the plains prospered or withered away as they were connected to or by-passed by the rails.
It was the Civil Wartime trains to California along a northern route that brought Omaha to its early prominence. The course of those rails created a city where they crossed the Missouri. In the same way, Ogden, Dallas, El Paso, Albuquerque, Cheyenne, and numerous others became important places due to their situation along the rails which led to or from California. Some of these settlements were previously small and would have remained that way or atrophied were it not for the trains. Others never would have come into existence at all without them.
In conclusion, that Great West of Remington and Russell---those men who combined myth and reality into another reality---could never have been so Western without the push in the opposite direction. That which was geographical and temporal and gave definition to their painting and sculpture embraced much more than simply the geographical West. It is not a tidy definition.
These artists spent time currying their reputations in the East. Likely on their reverse pilgrimages, their West to East trips to New York, they went through Omaha where its citizens continued looking West, oblivious of anything owed to anybody West to East.
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.
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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