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 Harvey Thomas Dunn  (1884 - 1952)

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Lived/Active: Delaware/New Jersey/South Dakota      Known for: frontier genre and marine painting, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Dunn, Harvey Thomas(1884 1952)

Harvey Thomas Dunn is best known as an illustrator, painter, and muralist. Though based in the East, particularly New Jersey and New York, his native state of South Dakota remained the inspiration for his finest works, which were scenes of prairie life and toil. Born in 1884 in Manchester, in the Red Stone Valley of South Dakota, he was raised in a sod house on the prairie, where he lived with his parents until he was 17 years old. There Dunn, a large boy, devoted his time to farm chores, school, and his drawing.

During a year he spent at the South Dakota Agriculture College in 1901, his teacher Ada Caldwell, an influential South Dakota artist herself, recognized Dunns abilities. She encouraged him to continue his studies at the Chicago Art Institute, which he did, and Dunn always acknowledged the opportunities she opened to him. His tuition was earned by janitor work, odd jobs, and as a summer farm hand. His artistic talent was evident in his drawings, and he was able to convince one of Americas foremost illustrators of that time, Howard Pyle, to admit him to his classes at Wilmington and Chadds Ford.

Dunn was on his own by 1906, selling his art to the magazine markets of the day. With N.C. Wyeth as his best man, Dunn married in 1908. He left Wilmington after Pyle died in 1911, and moved to Leonia, New Jersey, where the art markets were more attractive. One his best clients became The Saturday Evening Post. Along with artist Charles Chapman, Dunn opened the Leonia School of Illustration in 1915, at the inspiration of Howard Pyle.

World War I caused a brief intermission of Dunns career. In 1917, at the age of 33, Dunn was one of eight artists chosen to serve as a graphic reporter on the front lines. This was despite his being past the age of military service. His efforts were fearless, and he filled his logs with profound mental and physical images of ruin. He returned to his private works after being discharged at wars end in 1919. Many of his military drawings are housed at the Smithsonian.

He moved to Tenefly, New Jersey the same year, building a large studio near his home. Feeling the compulsion to create a more lasting art, in addition to illustrations, Dunn accepted a commission by a New York department store 1925 to paint five mural-like panels for its 100th anniversary. In 1928, the American Legion Monthly magazine began featuring Dunns war canvases, completed from his image sketches, on its monthly covers. Recording for history his vision of the war was one of his goals. Other goals were to capture the beauty of his native prairies, and to teach. He succeeded at both. The prairies were included on Legion magazine covers, and Dunn was able to teach at the Grand Central School of Art, at the Art Students League in New York. Selected students were allowed classes in his personal studio. Some of Dunns students included Dean Cornwell, Saul Tepper, Lyman Anderson, Mario Cooper, Harold von Schmidt, and John Clymer.

Although few of Dunns prairie paintings saw print, Dunn himself donated 42 to the now named South Dakota State University in 1950. In 1970, his works were transferred to the South Dakota Art Museum, where now over 90 canvases are on display. A fine example of his painting is The Prairie Is My Garden (oil on canvas, S.Dakota Art Museum, Brookings) which projects a combination of the beauty and the hardships of pioneer life and a sense of the stalwart men and women Dunn wished to memorialize.

He remains South Dakotas most honored painter, and the State Art Museum of Brookings, which contains many of his, as well as Ada Caldwells, works faces Harvey Dunn Street. Dunn died in 1952.

Biography from American Illustrators Gallery:
Harvey Dunn was born in the Red Stone Valley in the Dakota Territory in a shanty on a land claim just off a major buffalo trail. While sounding more romantic than reality, the area where he was born was the ‘frontier,’ a few years earlier. His parents were homesteaders who insisted that he help on the farm while he had bigger thoughts in mind, wanting to become an artist.

In 1901, he left the plow behind and enrolled at the South Dakota Agricultural College, but soon left there for the Art Institute of Chicago (1902-04). Just two years later, Howard Pyle met Dunn after a lecture at the AIC, looked at his work and invited him to join the summer program in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (1904-06). Dunn accepted and studied with Pyle becoming deeply and seriously influenced by his mentor, noting well that, “Pyle’s main purpose was to quicken our souls so that we might render service to the majesty of simple things.”

In 1906, at the age of twenty-two, with Pyle’s active encouragement, Harvey Dunn opened his own studio to begin a career as an illustrator. Dunn, a large bull of a man with country mannerisms, was almost an immediate success although he did not fit the prototype. He sold his first illustration to Keuffel and Esser Company of New York for an advertisement, and other commissions rolled in afterwards from magazines such as: Century, Collier’s, Harper’s New Monthly, Scribner’s, and Outing.

In all, Harvey Dunn painted over two-hundred and fifty illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post, an indication of great prowess, talent and popularity.

Harvey Dunn married in 1908, with NC Wyeth serving as his best man. He stayed in Wilmington until 1914, when he and his wife moved to Leonia, New Jersey. He met another artist, Charles S. Chapman and they co-founded the Leonia School of Illustration while continuing to commute to client’s in NYC.

Among his first students were Dean Cornwell and Arthur Fuller. Dunn instilled in all of his students the thought that “Art schools teach complexities, while I teach the simplicities. The only purpose in my being here is to get you to think pictorially.”

Dean Cornwell looked back on his days as Dunn’s student and said, “I gratefully look back on the time when I was privileged to sit at Harvey Dunn’s feet…he taught art and illustration as one…as religion…” The influence of Pyle on Dunn was obvious and it did not lessen when he passed along that which Pyle espoused to his own students.

The legacy continued when he taught at the Grand Central School of Art with his students there including prominent illustrators John Clymer, Amos Sewell, Harold von Schmidt and Saul Tepper. Dunn also greatly influenced his friends NC Wyeth and Frank Schoonover with his own interpretations of Pyle’s teachings while continuing to tout his mentor.

He once said that “art can not be taught. Pyle did not teach art, any more than life can be taught, but Pyle lay constant stress upon the proper relationship of all things.”

During World War I, Dunn was commissioned a captain and was one of eight war artists assigned to the American Expeditionary Forces in France; he suffered deep emotional wounds from his war experiences. It was recovering from his war torment, which engaged him in painting fond reminiscences from his youth on the Plains.

In 1919, after the end of the war, he turned many of his paintings over to the Smithsonian Institution and moved back to New Jersey, built a large studio and attempted to restart his daunting pre-war career. Once again he blossomed, turning out paintings so fast his art editors were left in awe. Nostalgically, he made many trips to South Dakota and began to earnestly paint the prairies, as he had known them as a youth, before the onslaught of development and highways.

The early influence of Howard Pyle on Harvey Dunn may be seen throughout his work especially where Dunn tried to capture the most dramatic moments possible in covering a subject. He went on to paint murals, his illustrations appeared on many magazine covers, and in 1950, he gifted his collection of prairie paintings and archives to South Dakota State College, where they now reside at the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings, on Harvey Dunn Street.

©2004 National Museum of American Illustration

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
Harvey T. Dunn, N.A. (1884-1952)

Harvey Dunn was born in a sod-house just off the main buffalo trace, south of Manchester in Dakota Territory. His preference to painting his native country of North & South Dakota came from an astute understanding of the land which he acquired while working on his father’s farm until the age of seventeen.

Dunn earned his art tuition by "sod-busting" for neighboring homesteaders. He decided he wanted to paint the beautiful and moving scenes around him. Studying art at Brookings, South Dakota, he received encouragement from a young art teacher named Ada B. Caldwell. Next, Dunn studied at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After two years of study at the Art Institute of Chicago, he was invited by Howard Pyle, then America’s foremost illustrator, to work at his school in Wilmington, Delaware, and at his summer school in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Dunn became deeply influenced by Pyle’s philosophy. Dunn said of Pyle, "His main purpose was to quicken our souls that we might render service to the majesty of simple things."

Dunn opened his own studio in 1906 and two years later married, having two children with Tulla Krebs. His career flourished; he became an illustrator of all the leading magazines and books, as well as a painter of murals and portraits specializing in Western subjects. During World War I he served as an official war artist depicting American forces in France. Twenty-four of these paintings are now in the Smithsonian Institution.

After the war Dunn and Charles S. Chapman conducted the Dunn School of Illustration in Leonia, New Jersey. He also taught at Grand Central School of Art. His pupils included Dean Cornwell, John Clymer, Gerard Delano, Arthur Mitchell, Bert Proctor, Jack Roberts, Harold Von Schmidt and Frank Street. In 1950 Dunn gave to South Dakota State College a collection of his paintings on prairie subjects.

Harvey Dunn’s work did not focus on the lusty life of the frontier, its far ranging hunters and explorers, its bad men and indians. Instead he focused on the God-fearing people who brought the bible and plow to areas like the Dakotas and Nebraska. However, in illustration his intent was to set the stage for the reader to imagine the story, versus describing the details as to control the mood. Dunn preached to his students to paint the epic rather than the incident. It was that quality in Dunn’s own work which made him one of the outstanding illustrators of his day.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, II:
Harvey T. Dunn
Born: Manchester, South Dakota 1884
Died: Tenafly, New Jersey 1952

Important magazine illustrator of the prairie

Dunn was born in a sod house in the Red Stone Valley, Dakota Territory. Large and powerful, he earned his art tuition by “sod-busting” for neighboring homesteaders. After rural school he studied art in 1901 at State College, Brookings, the pupil of Ada Caldwell, before attending the Art Institute of Chicago 1902-04. On invitation from Howard Pyle, he studied at Chadds Ford 1904-06, becoming deeply influenced by Pyle’s philosophy. Dunn opened his own studio in Leonia, NJ in 1906, an immediate success as an illustrator. In WWI, Dunn was official artist with the AEF.

Dunn was prolific magazine illustrator specializing in Western subjects. He also taught at Grand Central School of Art. His pupils included Burt Procter, Von Schmidt, Delano, Dye, Shope, Clymer, Hal Stone, Tepper, Edmund F Ward, Frank Street, Jack Roberts, Robert Wagoner, Dean Cornwell. In 1950, Dunn gave to South Dakota State College a collection of his paintings on prairie subjects. The gift is commemorated on a roadside marker near Dunn’s boyhood home. A memorial art center was dedicated at the college to house “The Harvey Dunn Collection and Archives.”

The more popular paintings like The Prairie Is My Garden were reproduced for sale as prints. Dunn’s favorite subjects were the sod-busting pioneers, not the shoot-em-ups of Remington and Russell. He called the purpose of an illustration the setting of the stage for the reader to imagine the story. His intent was to select an incident not described in detail in the text so the illustration could control the mood. In painting, Dunn first established the darker tones of the design to provide the basic pattern for color values and contrasts. He taught that figure drawing started with the head, which had to be kept most interesting.

Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

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