Harvey Dunn: Prairie legacy

Vanessa Marcano

Vanessa Marcano

The fierce wind from the north blowing through the golden landscape lined with cornfields, as the faint noises from massive black cows echo in the distance: this is the prairie, the vast environment that sparked the inspiration of one of South Dakota’s most famous exports in visual arts, as well as one of the many distinguished students at SDSU. Students have oftentimes walked on the road bearing his name and it’s only logical to wonder: Who exactly was Harvey Dunn?

Dunn was born on March 7, 1884 in Manchester, S.D. &-about an hour west of Brookings. In 1901, while still a young teenager, Dunn attended SDSU (then known as South Dakota State College) as a preparatory student, under the wing of Industrial Arts professor and artist Ada Caldwell.

One year later, Caldwell realized Dunn’s incredible potential and encouraged him to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, said John Rychtarik, curator of exhibits at the South Dakota Art Museum.

“This man [Dunn] was born and raised in the country, came to SDSC and went on from here to study with one of the most important illustrators of the time and to establish himself as a credible name in the arts,” Rychtarik said. “He was a genius.”

Following his time at AIC, Dunn befriended Howard Pyle &- a major name in the American illustration scene at the time8212;became his student and then went off to develop his own unique style.

Rychtarik explained that in Dunn’s early career, he was primarily an illustrator, painting informative pieces that would be later published and reprinted in publications like Harper’s or the Saturday Evening Post, as well as in books.

“He was a very proficient and fast painter; he would complete many works in a very short period of time,” Rychtarik said.

At one point, Dunn was able to finish 55 painted illustrations in just a little under three months, according to the SDAM’s website.

One of the most interesting artistic periods for Dunn’s career was during his service in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, where he served as a war illustrator in France, Rychtarik explained.

Many of his war sketches are now housed in the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. His illustrations, as well as paintings stemming from the war sketches are also found at the SDAM’s permanent collectiProxy-Connection: keep-aliveCache-Control: max-age=0

, said Rychtarik.

Dunn’s inspiration shifted gears toward his maturity, focusing more on the landscape familiar to many Jackrabbits who have grown up right here in the prairie Midwest.

“In his later years, he began painting nostalgic pieces focused on the prairie landscape and the place where he grew up,” Rychtarik said. Before his military service, in 1915, Dunn and fellow artist Charles Chapman founded the Leonia School of Illustration. When he returned from the war, Dunn continued illustrating and teaching from his studio and in other artistic institutions in New York.

One of Dunn’s most well known works is The Prairie Is My Garden, an illustration of a pioneer woman with a commanding view of the prairie, protecting her children from unexpected danger.

Adam Karnopp, director of orientation at SDSU, has a personal connection to this important work. Karnopp’s grandmother’s uncle, Ed Soreng, actually roomed with the artist during their time at SDSC. Soreng, at one point, came into possession of the piece.

“My grandmother is not sure if Ed bought it or was given it by Dunn,” Karnopp said, adding that Soreng later donated the piece to the SDAM.

In 1950, Dunn had his first exhibition in his home state, where he showcased more than 40 of his pieces at the Masonic Temple in De Smet, S.D., Rychtarik said. Following that exhibit, Dunn donated 42 of his paintings to SDSU. After the move of Dunn’s pieces from Pugsley Hall to the SDAM in the 70s, the collection is up to more than 100 pieces.

“Students should be very impressed with his work, the variety of his style and his attention to details,” Rychtarik said. “He was able to capture the spirit of each person and the essence of a story.”

Dunn died at the age of 68 in New York City.