Friday, January 27, 2012


Harvey Thomas Dunn

Harvey Thomas Dunn was born on March 8, 1884 on a homestead farm near Manchester, South Dakota. The young man's talent was first recognized by Ada Caldwell, an art instructor at South Dakota Agricultural College (presently South Dakota State University), which Dunn attended during 1901-1902. Urged by Caldwell, Dunn pursued his artistic studies at the Art Institute of Chicago under the instruction of Howard Pyle, one of America's most important illustrators.
In 1906, after two years with Pyle, Dunn established his own studio in Wilmington, DE and immediately began a successful career in illustration. In 1915 he opened the Leonia School of Illustration, NJ. Shortly after starting the school, Dunn was tapped into service in World War I as one of eight artist-correspondents with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe. Dunn returned from the War and his artistic career continued to excel. He is remembered as South Dakota's finest artist; having left a legacy as a war reporter, teacher, and painter of the Plains of his native state.

Sunday Morning at Cunel
American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) WWI 1918
National Archives

They are Giving all Will You Send Them Wheat?
WWI Propaganda Lithograph, 1918
Printed by W F Powers Co Litho NY

Dunn was 33 in 1917 and past the age of military service, but he was chosen as one of a cadre of eight artists who were commissioned to serve as graphic reporters of combat activities at the front. He was a fearless reporter and filled scrolls with powerful images of devastation, both physical and emotional. He wanted desperately to transform these reams of drawings into finished paintings and expected to be kept on the national payroll as he completed the proposed canvases. But he was discharged in 1919 immediately after the war and had to return to commercial work to support himself and his family. It was a bitter disappointment.
His drawings still exist, many at the Smithsonian, and display an emotional power that still can overwhelm the viewer, even today Settling back into the illustrative grind was simply not as satisfying as it had been before his war experiences. He moved to Tenefly, New Jersey, in 1919 and built a large studio adjacent to his new home. More and more he felt the need to create lasting art, in addition to illustration. He was commissioned to paint five mural-like panels for the 100th anniversary of a New York department store in 1925, but this failed to supply him with the fulfillment he sought.
In 1928 a venue opened up for Dunn to complete several of his proposed war canvases. The American Legion Monthly magazine began to feature his paintings as covers and Dunn's vision of the war was recorded for posterity. There were still two other goals yet to be reached: teaching and capturing the beauty of his native Dakotan prairie. The Legion magazine covers allowed him a venue for the latter and teaching was never far from his thoughts. Pyle's legacy would never find a more ardent supporter or capable disciple.

Aetna Life Insurance Company ad illustration, 1930

From 1926 to 1942 he taught at the Grand Central School of Art, which held classes on the top floor of the actual terminal building. Students rode a special elevator located on track 23 to the sky-lighted 7th floor. The Grand Central Terminal was the heart of America's modern streamlined industrial commerce. This setting inspired Dunn's students to consider the power of their own commercial work to elevate mass media to a higher level of art, by generously filling their work with the power of their unique inner spirit. Among his many pupils were pulp artists Lyman Anderson, Ernest Chiriacka, John Clymer, Dean Cornwell, Curtis Delano, Don Hewitt, Norman Saunders, Amos Sewell, Gloria Stoll, and Herbert Morton Stoops.
Dunn believed the purpose of illustration was to set the stage for the reader's imagination. He would often select a scene that was not described in detail in the text, in order to concentrate on depicting the mood of the story instead of the details. Dunn's approach to painting was to first establish the darker tones that provide base color values and contrasts and then build up to the light tones. Figures started with the heads, and the heads had to remain the most interesting elements in the final painting.
After WW2, Dunn only taught occasional seminars. He was the President of the Society of Illustrators, and he used that platform to vigorously attack changes in the publishing industry that threatened to destroy the noble humanist traditons of illustration art. Dunn could see that the need of corporate mass marketing to control a unified media message would soon destroy the classic era of freelance illustration by stifling the voice of the artist's individual creativity. Up until then magazines had used art editors to make curatorial selections from trusted artists, but that cordial relationship ended when art editors were replaced by art directors, or as Dunn called them, "art dictators!," whose prescribed assignments were best fabricated by anonymous graphic studios. "If I can't sign my own name on a painting, why would I bother to paint it! I'd rather quit the business and paint landscapes. If you ever amount to anything at all, it will be because you are true to that deep desire or ideal which made you seek artistic expression." — Harvey Dunn He died of cancer at age 68 on October 29, 1952.
(David Saunders 2009 at

Harvey Dunn'S Prairie Works

The Prairie Is My Garden
South Dakota Art Museum, Brookings

The South Dakota Art Museum maintains a large, comprehensive collection of work by South Dakota artists. A substantial collection of works by Harvey Dunn—one of South Dakota’s favorite artists and a former SDSU student—is housed permanently in the South Dakota Art Museum.
Visitors think it's their aunt or grandmother who is gathering wildflowers in The Prairie is My Garden (above), but no one knows the identities of the people in Harvey Dunn’s masterpiece. “We have lots of claims from people who know who it is,” says Lynn Verschoor, director of the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings, where The Prairie is My Garden hangs. “But he (Dunn) was an illustrator. He drew people all the time, with just generic faces.”
In fact, very little is known about Dunn’s most recognized Dakota landscape. Records are complete enough to show that Edgar Soreng, a member of South Dakota State College’s class of 1908 and a friend of Dunn’s, donated the work sometime between 1950 and 1970. The scene is likely a combination of Dunn’s memories growing up at Manchester in Kingsbury County and later summertime visits home, when he spent countless hours behind the wheel of his car sketching prairie vistas.

Jedediah Smith in the Badlands

The Prairie Trail

Harvey Dunn’s paintings of pioneer life on the South Dakota prairie have come to symbolize the state's early history. Even though Dunn died more than 60 years ago, he's still one of the region's most famous artists. He is an inspiration to local artists and warms the heart of many enthusiastic admirers. Dunn traveled extensively but he always seemed to come back to the inspiration of his beloved home state, South Dakota.
He painted with bold strokes of windswept color, depicting the strength and hardships of pioneer life. As a war artist for World War 1 he shared his observations, the ruins of armed combat while documenting the history of battles. Illustrating books and magazines he sold smiles and ideas with story telling pictures. Teaching, he spoke about spirit and emotions more than technique with his students.
Harvey Dunn paintings are full of life, energy and emotion. His impressionistic painting style is reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, but perhaps with a more documentary note. Bright blues, crisp yellows and warm browns draw you into each painting to reveal their own story of the past. Dunn was known to “attack the canvas” with a brush, moving energy from artist and idea into each painting. The power of his convictions is evident in the moving brush strokes, impasto style layers of paint and composition of color. Foggy climates in blue grey give way to the mangled limbs of war soldiers, wind blown skirts and prairie grass blaze under a golden Dakota sun; wind, light and atmosphere are as real as if you had stepped inside the mind of Mr. Dunn.
Dunn created vibrant, energetic canvases that sing with drama, emotion, adventure and excitement. Even though many of his paintings were printed as black and white illustrations, he painted them in strikingly rich color, perhaps partly to please himself and partly to honor the extremely high standards of his mentor. His illustrations appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s Weekly, Harper’s Magazine and Scribner’s as well as in numerous books. He emphasized the emotion and feeling of the image, taking Pyle’s advice to project oneself into the scene being painted, and he became a master of dramatic composition.
(Charley Parker at

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

In April 1897 Paul Gauguin had already been back in Tahiti for two years. His health was poor and he rarely worked outside in the lush natural world or by the ocean. He spent much more time in his studio. That month he received the news from his wife Mette that his daughter Aline, at the age of only twenty, had died in Copenhagen in January from complications due to pneumonia. Gauguin was utterly distraught at this news and in the following months he gradually resolved to take his own life. Illness and distance from home were an unbearable weight. But before leaving the world he wished to paint his masterpiece, one last great work summing up the meaning of his journey in the world and among the lights of painting. So he ordered fresh paints and lots of brushes, some very large, from Paris. On Tahiti he had an enormous canvas made, almost four meters long and one and a half meters high. Having been admitted to the French Hospital with heart problems on the second day of December 1897, he immediately walked out again and set to work on an epoch-making painting, one of the most celebrated works in the whole of the history of art. By the end of December the painting was finished, and the day before old year's night he climbed up into the mountains with a jar of arsenic, bent on suicide. But he swallowed so much all at once that he immediately vomited the poison. Prey to convulsions and in terrible pain, he lay on the mountain for a whole day until he eventually managed to stagger back down to the village for help. What survives from this whole experience is the celebrated painting Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?. (
Gauguin inscribed the original French title in the upper left corner: D'où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous. The inscription the artist wrote on his canvas has no question mark, no dash, and all words are capitalized. In the upper right corner he signed and dated the painting: P. Gauguin / 1897. The painting was created in Tahiti, and is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Gauguin—after vowing that he would commit suicide following this painting's completion, something he had previously attempted—indicated that the painting should be read from right to left, with the three major figure groups illustrating the questions posed in the title. The three women with a child represent the beginning of life; the middle group symbolizes the daily existence of young adulthood; and in the final group, according to the artist, "an old woman approaching death appears reconciled and resigned to her thoughts"; at her feet, "a strange white bird...represents the futility of words." The blue idol in the background apparently represents what Gauguin described as "the Beyond." Of its entirety he said, "I believe that this canvas not only surpasses all my preceding ones, but that I shall never do anything better—or even like it." The painting is an accentuation of Gauguin's trailblazing post-impressionistic style; his art stressed the vivid use of colors and thick brushstrokes, tenets of the impressionists, while it aimed to convey an emotional or expressionistic strength. It emerged in conjunction with other avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, including cubism and fauvism.
Like Van Gogh, Gauguin thought and wrote about his work at length. A collection of his writing is contained in The Writings of a Savage. His concern with philosophical questions can be judged from the following extract: Given this ever present riddle: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? What is our ideal, natural, rational destiny? And under what conditions can it be accomplished? or what is the law, what are the rules for accomplishing it in its individual and humanitarian meaning? We do not know whether Gauguin ever found a satisfactory answer, but we must look at his paintings for illumination of these questions.
To look for allegorical meanings in Gauguin’s greatest work appears to be an invitation to embark on a fool’s errand. Gauguin’s implication that his title was a mere afterthought is somewhat hard to swallow in the light of events leading up to and immediately following the execution of the painting. Knowing noting of its genesis, or even of its content, we can still admire the organization of color, line and pattern in ”Where Do We Come From?” and still marvel at its glowing topical light. Still, a nagging question remains which is what exactly are is the viewer looking at? That question is best answered through some biographical data on Gauguin to know where Gauguin came from. What was he? And Where was he going? By the time Gauguin decided, belatedly, and irrevocably, to devote his life to art, the most controversial innovation in the history of painting, impressionism, had won a measure of acceptance. The disturbance that it once caused now seems altogether disproportionate to the small measure of radicalism the style really embodied. The much misunderstood aim of impressionism was the achievement of a more credible realism, and the adherents of the style were more concerned with evolution than revolution. Gauguin’s contemporaries found his colors bizarre, his drawings crude, and his forms flat an unconvincing. They were not yet able to concede that paintings could exist on their own terms, independent of both external reality and established conventions. However, no such hesitation impeded public acceptance of the content of Gauguin’s pictures, which were taken to be literal illustrations of Tahitian life and mythology. Posterity has chosen to see the particualr in the universal and to cast its image of Tahiti in Gauguin’s mold. Since Gauguin’s death in 1903, much has been learned about the indigenous arts of the South Pacific that was not known in his time. The enormous idols dominating ”The Feast of Hina” and ”Where Do We Come From”, were the products of Gauguin’s fanciful approach to the Tahitian scene and its mythology, and that effigies in other paintings had no real counterparts in tahitian sculpture but were derivations and composites of Indian, Javan, and ancient Egyptian religious art. Still, the notion endured that the remainder of Gauguin’s Tahiti, the idyllic settings peopled by childlike, unspoiled beings, may be taken as a literal transcript of what the artist found in the colony.
(NONE OF THE ABOVE Posted on March 2, 2010 by Dave at

Paul Gaugin and Piano

Paul Gaugin

The life of Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), who abandoned his wife, five children, and a successful career as a stockbroker to paint in poverty in exotic Tahiti, is one of the legendary tales of the art world. Today he is recognized as a highly influential founding father of modern art, who emphasized the use of flat planes and bright, no naturalistic color in conjunction with symbolic or primitive subjects. In brilliantly lucid discussions of life and art Gauguin paints a triumphant self-portrait of a volcanic artist and the tormented man within. (The Writings Of A Savage (Paperback) book description at Why did Gauguin make his way towards the tropical island of Tahiti? The artist, Gauguin, continued his search for the essentials of humanity whilst being torn apart by the extremities between civilized and savage, sacred and profane, life and death, man and woman, spiritual and materialistic. He turned his back on the highly developed western civilization of the end of the 19th century and made his way alone to the solitary island of Tahiti in the South Seas. It can be said that his tumultuous life is typical of the lonely wandering artist who sacrificed his life for art. Awakened by his inner "wildness", Gauguin searched for the "paradise" which would nurture his nascent singular imagination. His search led him to Brittany with its strong tradition of Celtic culture, Martinique with its sparkling tropical nature, Arles, in the South of France, which provided the stage for his legendary collaborative work with Van Gogh, and his two journeys to Tahiti. In this way, Gauguin continued to travel with no ending in sight. During this process, he arrived at the fundamental subject matter of human life and death, civilized and savage. The aim of Gauguin's paintings was to express through the language of form, the deep emotions and contemplations of human existence. His great masterpiece which was painted in Tahiti, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897-98), represents the consolidation of what he was attempting to achieve through his art. Along with the enigmatic title, this work represents his spiritual testament which he left behind for future generations.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Willie Gillis Generations

Norman Rockwell painted 332 magazine covers for the Saturday Evening Post, and never repeated a character. That is, until “Willie Gillis.”
From 1941 to 1946, Mr. Rockwell featured Willie eleven times. He took Willie from a boy to a man. The pilot for the series has taken the paintings and chronologically linked them together to tell the epic of Willie Gillis. Each of the paintings becomes the closeout still-frame of this most incredible portrait of Americana. (RUSS WEATHERFORD at

New Year's Eve

Willie Gillis, Jr. (more commonly simply Willie Gillis) is a fictional character created by Norman Rockwell for a series of World War II paintings that appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post (henceforth Post).
A fictional private, he appeared on a total of eleven Post covers. Gillis was a fictional everyman whose career was tracked on the cover of the Post from induction through discharge without being depicted in battle. Gillis and his fictional girlfriend were artistic depictions of some of Rockwell's real-life acquaintances who served as his models. Although Gillis was not exclusively used on Post covers, the Willie Gillis series of covers was a hallmark of Rockwell's wartime work. In Rockwell's prime and at the peak of its popularity, The Post had a subscribership of 4 million, and many of these subscribers believed Gillis was a real person.
A fictious name taken from his wife's, Willie Gillis narrated the story of a all-American innocent young boy going to war. The intent was to infuse a sense of duty, patriotism and optimism to a whole generation of young Americans embarking for war (similar to the 1917 illustration for Life magazine, "Polley Voos Fransay). It was a successful idea and the illustrations became very popular. Robert Otis "Bob" Buck, a boy from where he lived in West Arlington and who was exempt from the draft, was the model for his illustrations initially. When he also managed to be enrolled by the Navy, Rockwell used photos of him.

Willie Gillis’ Package from Home

The very first image "Willie Gillis Food Package" showed him holding a care package labeled 'Food.' He is looking hesitantly over his shoulder, while a dozen high ranked officers are starring at the package with anticipation.

Willie Gillis USO

A popular cover from the series "Willie Gillis USO" shows a very amused Willie being served donuts and cookies by two young dutiful USO workers.

Double Trouble for Willie Gillis

Two lovely ladies are at their mailboxes, but the situation isn’t pretty. Seems both have been communicating with the same soldier, Willie Gillis. Not the first time we find Willie in hot water. (

Willie Gillis in the Convoy

Rockwell had a flair for storytelling on canvas and liked to paint the softer side of life. His unique, yet a simple portrayal of innocent "Willie Gillis" reacting to everyday scenarios, won the affection of the American public. Many Americans thought Willie was a real person and were always curious to know more about his life. Norman made one painting of "Willie Gillis," which was not meant for cover. It was called "Willie Gillis in the Convoy." It depicted him in the back of a military truck with a rifle in his hand. Rockwell donated this painting to the Gardner High School.

Willie Gillis Home on Leave

His model, Robert Otis Buck

The name may not be familiar to you, but the face should be. Norman Rockwell chose it for his Willie Gillis series, which portrayed events from the life of a young American GI. Willie first appeared on the cover of the Post on October 4, 1941. When he next appeared, a year later, the editors ran this short item: There have been so many questions about the first Willie Gillis cover by Norman Rockwell that we’re glad to supply a few answers. No, Willie is not a soldier. He works in a sawmill near Mr. Rockwell’s Vermont home. And that was all they said about Mr. Buck.
Over the next two years, Willie Gillis had adorned the Post cover eight times and had become a celebrity. Like Rosie the Riveter and the Americans shown in the Four Freedoms, he had become a symbol of the American war effort. He had become so popular, the Post finally divulged the model’s identity. “Willie in real life is Robert Otis Buck, known to his friends as “Little Buck.” Norman Rockwell, seeking a model for his Willie Gillis Post covers, spotted Little Buck in the summer of 1941 at a square dance at Arlington, Vermont, where the Rockwells live. “Norman stared at the boy so long,” Mrs. Rockwell said afterward, “that Buck was ready to take a poke at him until Norman finally explained that he wanted him for a model.” The following June Little Buck was graduated from Salem Washington Academy, Salem, New York, and went to work for General Electric at Pittsfield, Mass. Mr. Rockwell made a number of sketches of Little Buck for future Willie Gillis covers.”
Rockwell liked Buck’s looks. He wasn’t glamorous. He didn’t exude bravery and nobility. To Rockwell, the character of Willie Gillis was “an inoffensive, ordinary little guy thrown into the chaos of war.” He would look decent and unsophisticated, but ready to adapt to life in the Army. Rockwell also liked the fact that Buck had a medical deferment, which kept him out of the draft, so his model would be available for posing throughout the war. But by 1943, Robert Buck was tired of sitting out the war. “The trouble with the country and the world, too, is that nothing stays put. Not even Pvt. Willie Gillis. We hope your illusions are good sturdy fellows, able to take it on the chin when we report, as we feel bound to do, that Gillis is leading a double life—has been since May, when he joined the Navy.
On May fourteenth, Buck entered the Navy as apprentice seaman at the Naval Training Station at Sampson, New York. The following day the Rockwell studio at Arlington burned and all (of Rockwell’s sketches of Buck) were destroyed. The Navy, with the generous realization that life must go on for Pvt. Willie Gillis, lent him back to Mr. Rockwell long enough for the artist to make new sketches. Little Buck, who, the Rockwells agree, is a swell youngster, hopes to become a Naval flying cadet at the end of eight months’ training. He himself sees no impropriety in his up and joining the Navy after becoming, as Willie Gillis in Army togs, America’s No. 1 pin-up boy. As for his reason, it was simple. ” I just liked the Navy better,” he said. Well, it’s Willie Gillis’, excuse us—Little Buck’s, young life to lead and to offer to whatever branch of the service he prefers. We’ve always rooted for the Annapolis football team ourselves. But all the same, Willie’s turning up in the Navy does underline the instability these days of all so-called established things.”
(Thanks, Robert Buck. Goodbye, Willie Gillis by Jeff Nilsson at

Wiilie Gillis at college

In all, Buck/Gillis appeared on 11 Post covers. The last one showed him as a young man, discharged from the Army, studying at college. The American soldier was now the American scholar, one of 7.8 million Americans taking advantage of the G.I. Bill. It was as happy an ending as Rockwell could have painted for the war. He gave the original painting to Buck, who never parted with it.
(Thanks, Robert Buck. Goodbye, Willie Gillis by Jeff Nilsson at

Wiilie Gillis at college

The illustration "Willie Gillis in College" gave the series a kind of happy conclusion. It showed the post war Gillis dressed in smart casual clothes smoking a pipe and sprawled next to a window reading a book. His expression is relaxed and he seemed happy in that pleasant environment. (

Willie Gillis of World War II,
Portrayed by Norman Rockwell as
American GI, true blue,
One of all America has,
For freedom, fighting the good fight,
Then coming home safe to fulfill
A future, promising and bright,
To college on the GI bill.
In wars today, no Willie’s shown,
The sight and sound bytes give no face.
Coverage keeps a high tech tone
To keep up with war’s modern pace.
Yet, the American GI
Fights for freedom for you and I.
(Posted by Ima Ryma, May 30, 2011 at