Friday, 10 December 2010

HARVEY DUNN (1884 - 1952)



Harvey Dunn was a tall, muscular prairie farmer with a rare artistic gift. He started out plowing buffalo trails into farmland on the South Dakota frontier and ended up as one of the giants of the golden age of illustration.

A teacher at an a agricultural School noticed Dunn's talent and persuaded the 17 year old to travel to Chicago to train at the Art Institute. There he came to the attention of the legendary Howard Pyle, who brought Dunn to Wilmington Delaware where Pyle ran a school for gifted young illustrators. Among all of Pyle's talented students, Dunn was the young Prometheus who became inspired by Pyle's gift of teaching and passed it along to a whole new generation of artists, from Dean Cornwell and Mead Schaeffer to Saul Tepper and Harold von Schmidt. Dunn returned regularly to his South Dakota home for inspiration later in life.

Here are examples of Dunn's lovely work:











Until this week, Harvey Dunn was the last remaining giant among the "golden age" illustrators without a book memorializing his work. Howard Pyle, Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell and others have substantial art monographs-- some of them have several.



I am happy to report that this gap has now been filled.

Walt Reed, the world's leading authority on illustration, has completed a splendid new book, Harvey Dunn: Illustrator and Painter of the Pioneer West. The book brings together an excellent collection of Dunn's art (367 plates, 294 of them in color) often with new photographs from the original paintings. I thought I knew Dunn's work, but this book came as a revelation to me (which is, I guess, a primary reason for reading a book). The book also presents Dunn's teaching methods and demonstrates the prodigious results of that teaching, with an illustrated selection of Dunn's more successful students.

I have always enjoyed Reed's writings for the integrity of his scholarship, the clarity of his prose, and especially for his impeccable judgment.

Just as sculptor Gutzon Borglum chiseled the faces of great presidents from the granite cliffs of South Dakota's Mount Rushmore, Walt Reed has done more than anyone else to define the Mt. Rushmore of great illustrators of the 20th century. His work is as solid and reliable as granite. I highly recommend his new book to everyone interested in this field.