The Cover

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					The Cover

   In a country of immigrants, it is not unusual to encounter a           painter resident in the state. He was, however, anything but a
painter with origins overseas or across the border. Nor is it             lonely figure, having a wide circle of friends and admirers, lb
uncommon to meet or hear of an American expatriate artist                 these people he expressed a philosophy of painting that de¬
who chooses to live outside his country, possibly never to                rived from the direct observation of nature. He spoke repeat¬
return. Augustus Dunbier (1888-1977), at one point in his life,           edly of the "spirit of the outdoors." His terms were "harmony,
approached both of these, but was in fact neither. He was an              orchestration, key, mood," words he sprinkled into every
American emigrant. At the age of 16, he was hastened aboard               conversation. Nature was music and paint provided the notes.
a steamship filled with people of diverse nations crossing the            To Dunbier, it was all one.
North Atlantic; but the direction was east, and for all he knew              To find thematic variations he traveled widely, most often to
he was leaving the United States for good.                                the Southwest and Mexico, where the subject matter was
   Dunbier was born into a farming, horse-breeding family of              much to his liking. The more or less resident painters—
German origin that had prospered in the generally harsh                   Walter Ufer, E. I. Couse, Edgar Payne, Leon Gaspard, and
environment of central Nebraska. The vast plains frontier                 Lon Megargee—were his friends and influences. But his real
needed horses and the grain to nourish them. Louis Dunbier,               work was that of interpreter of the "challenging foreign
Augustus' father, was prepared to supply both and to bring                language" of vibrations received through the eye. The most
numerous relatives from the Rhineland across to work in this              subtle of these, representing time of day, season of the year,
endeavor. Then, for some not clearly understood reason, in                humidity, temperature, and other atmospheric conditions, he
1904 he decided to sell the entire operation and take his family          carried to the canvas with expertise and verve.
(minus the oldest boy, who was playing baseball in the Texas                 Changing Pastures (cover), painted around 1950, demon¬
League) permanently back to the small town of his birth near              strates the artistic philosophy that prevailed during most of
Bonn.                                                                     Dunbier's career. As in most of his midlife landscapes, this
   This was prologue to the day in 1907 when Dunbier sat for              portrayal of Nebraska's Elkhorn River Valley was painted
entrance examinations at the old Royal Academy of Art in                  entirely out of doors. The view is westward down a long
Düsseldorf. There followed seven years at that institution,               decline toward the river, which can be observed as a faint line
passing from class to class under the authoritarian supervi¬              of trees extending across the canvas. What the viewer sees is
sion of a faculty dedicated to fundamentals. The first three              the riverine palisade of cottonwoods, which, when mature as
years were spent entirely in draftsmanship—no color was                   these are, reach to a height of 80 feet or more. This gives some
allowed in the studio class. The results of this regimen were             idea of the distance involved in this picture. Using very little
entirely predictable and can be observed in any gallery where             in the standard repertory of linear perspective devices, Dun¬
paintings by young Germans of this period are to be seen.                 bier achieves a remarkable feeling for the vastness of this
Extramural work was awash with improvisational color.                     wide open and sparsely populated part ofthe American West.
Within the gates of the Academy, Dunbier pressed forward                  In so doing, he captures what every plein air painter tries to
with his studies of anatomy, media, and composition. By 1913,             master: the intangibles, in this case the sense of distance and
his sixth year at the Academy, his work had advanced suffi¬               atmosphere. One need not note the absence of factory
ciently for him to be positioned for a supervisory appoint¬               chimneys to sense the quality of the air to be had here on this
ment.                                                                     better-watered part ofthe Great Plains. The incipient heart of
   After 1913 came 1914. German, always a second language                 the approaching summer causes the entire landscape to come
for Dunbier, was becoming a first, but it was German with an              alive in an abundance of greens. The clear sky will all too soon
American accent, which sounded to the local ear quite British             transform this landscape into the warmer tones of mid¬
and engendered discussion if not suspicion. Germany was at                summer, but for  now the greens have it.
war with England while America was neutral. He was of draft                  That farm buildings dotted this lush landscape at the time
age. Things were becoming quite uncomfortable all the way                 this was painted cannot be doubted, but Dunbier chose not to
around. As Dunbier later said, "Who ever heard of a German                include them. This may have been nothing other than a com¬
soldier ducking French bullets while his brother was catching             positional omission, but it might also be that he envisioned
fly balls for Dallas?" Dunbier came home.                                 here a long-ago view of a less-populated West, a West of
   His return to Nebraska marked the beginning of 60 prolific             drovers on horseback moving cattle toward a railway siding, a
years as a landscape, portrait, and still-life painter, as well as a      West he knew so well as a boy before he boarded that steam¬
restorer, lecturer, and all-around designer. He designed paint            boat as an emigrant, who, of course, never left home.
boxes, easels, and frames, carved wood, painted murals, laid                                                 \p=m-\RogerA. Dunbier, PhD
gold leaf, and consulted with designers and architects. He was
accepted as a member of the Salmagundi Club and appeared                  Roger A. Dunbier, son of the artist, lives in Scottsdale, Ariz, andis developing
in Who's Who in American Art for over 50 years.                           an electronic-based system for the evaluation, inventory, and registration of
   For some of these years Dunbier was the only unsubsidized              paintings and drawings.

                                        (Changing Pastures, 1950, American. Oil on canvas.   50.8 x 61.0 cm.
                                        Courtesy of Dr and Mrs Richard B. Svehla, Omaha.)

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