Sunday, January 4, 2015


The best way to start out a fresh, shiny new year is to hit the road and see a new exhibit!
Handsome Husband and I did just that recently, taking Highway 81 north several hundred miles to see “Harvey Dunn, the Complete Collection" at the South Dakota Art Museum on the campus of South Dakota State college in Brookings SD.

Harvey Dunn was one of the most important illustrators in the early part of the 20th century. The paintings he created were dashing, romantic, aggressive and expressive, often becoming more interesting than the stories themselves.  During WWI he was assigned to chronicle the war. His "as it is" paintings did not sit well and he had to wait for other opportunities to share his pictorial experiences.

1928 House to House Combat for The American Legion Monthly

When he stepped away from illustration, he strode confidently into recreating the landscape and lifestyle of his youth. Those are the pieces we traveled northward to see.

The Prairie Is My Garden, one of  Harvey Dunn's first independent paintings.
Dunn, born in 1884, was raised in the same prairie neighborhood as Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame; the wide-open untamed rolling hills of eastern South Dakota – had South Dakota been a state then. (That didn't happen for another 5 years.)  His ability to express the loneliness, strength, camaraderie, determination to survive, as well as the vastness and power of the open prairie, is unsurpassed.

In many ways this part of the country hasn't changed all that much from Mr. Dunn's youth. Spare and beautiful.
HH and I spent a lovely 2 days wandering the museum, admiring and studying each painting. No doubt the staff will spend a few hours today wiping nose prints off the surface of the artwork. For me the best part of an art exhibit is getting right up close to see what’s going on. If I could climb right inside the artist’s apron I’d do that. Studying brush strokes, what they cover, how they swirl…oh!

Closeup of Model on Sofa, circa 1929

Closeup of The Prairie Is My Garden, worked on over several years
Closeup from happy Hunting Ground

(Note to museum staff: Stop hanging “salon style”. Just stop it. There’s a reason it’s no longer done. To hang a painting 10 feet off the ground is agonizingly frustrating to the viewer, not to mention the artist who would love for you to actually see it. That Handsome Husband refused to let me climb on his shoulders so that I could put my nose to artwork in the upper elevations is a testament to his patience and sensibility. Had he not been there insisting I keep my feet firmly planted on terra firma, my Plan B was to pick the lock on the janitor’s closet and free the stash of rolling ladders. (It just now occurs to me…does HH really enjoy these exhibits, or is he trying to keep me out of the hoosegow?))
I disavow any knowledge of the scuff marks climbing toward the upper level.

This is an exhibit that will stick with me for a long time. The power and confidence in each stroke of paint, the stories he told, the love he had for the wide open spaces of his homeland…I've got a lot to think about.  Hues, application, composition, courage, attitude - it all shows up on the canvas.

After the Blizzard n.d. by Harvey Dunn

Rough Country n.d. by Harvey Dunn

To see paintings up close is exciting and invigorating, like being able to sit alongside the artist and witness the paint being mixed and laid on.  Frustratingly, he left very little in the way of explanation or process. It'll be up to me to dig in and learn about that in my own way.
Thanks HH, you're a peach for coming along and making this an exceptional way to start the new year.
HH celebrating the first weekend of 2015 with his own version of Hot Tub Time Machine, courtesy of Brookings Super 8.

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