Photos courtesy of the South Dakota Art Museum

Harvey Dunn is best known for his illustrations from the battlefields of World War I and his depictions of life on the Great Plains. The Manchester, South Dakota native’s work often juxtaposes the harshness of prairie life with the natural beauty and strength of those who made it home. This summer, the South Dakota Art Museum is showcasing 85 of Dunn’s paintings alongside works from his illustration students, like Dean Cornwell, Meade Schaeffer and Saul Tepper. SDAM’s Stacy A. Aesoph explains what makes Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students a can’t-miss for all South Dakotans.

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In broad strokes, tell us a bit about the show.

SA: Dunn rose to fame as an illustrator during the Golden Age of American illustration. He passed his passion and wisdom on to his students through teaching and was a war artist on the battlefields of WWI. Later in life, he focused on paintings of South Dakota prairie life. The show includes paintings from all of these bodies of work so it’s a comprehensive view of Dunn’s life and and showcases some of his best works.

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What is something that we might not know about Harvey Dunn?

SA: This exhibition illuminates Dunn’s importance nationally as a renowned teacher. In South Dakota we honor him for his prairie paintings, but Dunn was an illustrator in WWI as well as an influential teacher.

Why will this work resonate with South Dakotans?

SA: Dunn’s work resonates with South Dakotans for many reasons. We recognize the landscapes, we understand his work ethic, and his prairie works have been part of our visual history. Many visitors talk about the print of The Prairie is My Garden hanging in their homes or their grandparents’ homes and they associate those memories with Dunn’s work. South Dakotans recognize themselves in the paintings because of what we know about what kind of man he was—dedicated and hardworking—these are all qualities we understand and admire. The adventure, drama and mystery in these works are completely captivating, too. Illustrators of this era had to bring stories to life, draw readers in and keep them engrossed in the tale at hand so the sense of tension and anticipation in the paintings is really exciting to see.

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Who came up with the concept for this exhibit?

SA: Richard Kelly, from The Kelly Collection of American Illustration Art.

Did any unique challenges present themselves while trying to make this show a reality?

SA: Organizing exhibitions of this caliber takes a lot of effort by a lot of people. Staff from the Norman Rockwell Museum secured all the loans from private collections out East and drafted the copy for labels and catalog. Every staff member of the South Dakota Art Museum also played a role in putting this exhibition together. The whole process took two years.

Is it traveling, or unique to the South Dakota Art Museum?

SA: This is a traveling exhibition that opens at the South Dakota Art Museum, then it will travel to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, then end at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

What else can we see at the SDAM this summer?

SA: We have a special exhibit titled, No Holds Barred: Experiments of William Weege, that was curated by SDSU graduate and South Dakota Art Museum intern, Samantha Berry. This exhibit includes a range of prints – some collages featuring pop stars and abstract paper pieces with a theme of social and political commentary by William Weege.

What else should we know?

SA: There are 85 world-class, simply AMAZING paintings on display at the museum this summer. Works by Dunn that have never been seen in South Dakota hang alongside beautiful paintings by many of his best students—here on a temporary loan. It makes this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for South Dakotans to see Dunn in a different context than they have before and appreciate his national significance in a deeper way. Plus, the South Dakota Art Museum has free admission!

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View Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students through September 13 at the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings. The closing reception featuring Elizabeth Alberding, curator of The Kelly Collection of American Illustration Art is September 11 from 5-7 p.m.


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