Thomas Nygard Gallery - 19th and 20th Century American Art



Harvey T.


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.


(1884 - 1952)

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