Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on January 7 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 Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.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 email@example.com.
WHAT'S A WESTERN ARTIST?
"Is it really true
that the most Western are the most Eastern?"
By Roger Dunbier, PhD (1934-1998)
According to some, artists fail to qualify as 'Western' if they have not concerned themselves with some threshold of concentration on one or more 'Western' subjects such as frontier soldiers, Indians, cowboys and trappers, range animals, stagecoaches and wagons.
If this criterion is absurd, can the reasoning be turned on its head and made sensible by making it positive? In other words, should an artist beincludedand considered 'Western' if he completes X plus one canvases and drawings having the requisite subject matter mentioned above? Can he do this while never leaving his loft in New York City, or for that matter, Berlin?
There is a real problem here because a good case could be made that that location is where he should remain! By staying in that place, far from the West, and making a limited number of canvases that conform to the requisite criterion of 'Western', the door opens wide to every clever draughtsman cum illustrator anywhere. With this approach of staying in close proximity to where the money is, the artist can render narrowly defined subject matter most efficiently by never vacating his studio for campfire discomfitures.
A long list of good illustrators of Western subjects never went West, or if they did, it was once, and by accident, very late in their careers. Among the most prominent of these are Howard Pyle (1853-1911), Stanley Arthurs (1877-1950) and Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). The list is as long as your arm and extends to Oslo and Budapest. These early illustrators lived, died and were buried in the East or Europe, circumstances that could have prompted Alice in Wonderland to ask the Queen: "Is it really true that the most Western are the most Eastern?"
This kind of cowboy, Indian and buffalo orientation in defining what is a Western artist percolates through the literature. Ed Ainsworth, who has written extensively on artists working in the West, exemplifies these associations in his book, The Cowboy in Art, when after a short discussion of Alfred Bierstadt (1830-1902), he continues: " . . . some of the artists such as Thomas Moran, the British born younger brother of the famous Edward Moran, dwelt more upon the scenic grandeur of the Rockies and Yellowstone than on the Indians and horses and buffalo. Still, the works of all these artists combined to give Americans a new insight into the Western region. Each was depicting the ingredients from which the cowboy and his Western range were evolving."
Later Ainsworth addresses the "painters who were attracted to Taos and Santa Fe who, however, never painted Western subjects despite their surroundings. Still, along with these who did portray the West, they served a purpose in attracting the attention of other artists who were led to visit the New Mexico area, and some of these latter remained and in their enthusiasm did become Western artists." (82)
With these words "never painted Western subjects despite their surroundings", Ainsworth places outside the pale of 'Western Art' painters such as Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960), Bert Geer Phillips (1868-1956), Eanger I. Couse (1866-1936), Oscar Berninghaus (1874-1952), and Victor Higgins (1884-1949). Without accepting them into the fold of Western artists, he did allow that Herbert (Buck) Dunton (1878-1936) and Walter Ufer (1876-1936) "were among the best known for having adapted themselves to Western subjects." Ainsworth writes: "Ufer's Western depictions also bore a stamp of great authenticity and his horses are considered among the best drawn by anyone in the group." (83)
Well, well---so Walter Ufer, academy trained at Dresden, generally recognized as one of the truly gifted American draftsmen, could draw a horse! This is praise indeed. But, it appears to me that in Ainsworth's mind, Ufer, along with the other so-called Taos sophisticates, has a problem because he didn't spendallhis time 'drawing horses'.
Never mind that when you stand before an Ufer canvas with an Ufer horse, you have this overwhelming desire to reach out and give that animal a friendly pat, raising a little puff of dust and knowing it will be the only dust in that landscape. You know this because if Ufer wanted dust, he would have painted it in. That, in fact, is why Ufer and his confreres went to Taos in the first place---to seize the landscape, the atmosphere with its scudding clouds against blue skies, and its Pueblo Indian associations. They certainly did not go West to draw horses!
Ufer moved from Chicago to Taos in 1914, a year when the streets of Chicago were all too full of horses. And without belaboring this puzzling circumstance, it does seem that Ufer could have become a 'Western Artist' if he had stayed in Chicago and sketched horses by the thousands simply by leaning out of his window overlooking State Street.
Or, if you were an artist from New York City and did not
have the easy first hand 'Western' subjects like Ufer of Chicago, you could
become a western artist by pouring over the line lithographs of Remington,
Bonheur, Munnings and the other masters of equine anatomy very much available
at the local bookseller or library. And there was perhaps the occasional
stroll down to the livery barn where even more were observable in flesh
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:
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