Biographical Information

W. Herbert Dunton

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(1878-1936)


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W. Herbert Dunton    1925
Courtesy Fenn Galleries, Santa Fe, New Mexico

W. Herbert ("Buck") Dunton was born William Herbert Dunton on August 28, 1878 on the family farm near  Augusta, Maine. His parents were William Henry and Anna Katherine Pillsbury Dunton. In his childhood years, he spent a great deal of time in the Maine woods with his Grandfather Pillsbury. This sparked an interest in hunting, animals, and the outdoors, that lasted a lifetime.

A life changing event occurred in 1896 when he ventured to Montana. He fell in love with the West and for the next fifteen years made summer trips to Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, New Mexico, Montana, and Mexico where he cowboyed and hunted. During these trips, Dunton contributed pen and ink drawings to local newspapers.

After a stint at the Cowles Art School in Boston in 1897, and further studies with Andreas M. Andersen, William L. Taylor, and Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, Dunton began his illustration career in earnest. He married in 1900, moved to New York in 1903, and his illustration career boomed. In 1908, Dunton was elected to the artists' social fraternity, the Salmagundi Club, and around 1911 he continued his studies at the Art Students League under Frederick C. Yohn, Frank V. DuMond, and Ernest Blumenschein.

Mr. Dunton was an accomplished artist at an early age. He illustrated for Harper's, Schribners, and many other magazines. He also created artwork for many books. Examples of these can be viewed at this site.

Dunton was becoming strained from the pressures associated with being a commercial illustrator.  In June of 1912, Ernest Blumenschein suggested to Dunton that he visit Taos, New Mexico.  After this initial visit, and another the following year, W. Herbert Dunton permanently relocated to Taos in 1914.  This is where he was able to thrive as a western illustrator, combining his two loves -- hunting and painting.  It is Ernest Blumenschein who can be given the credit for getting Mr. Dunton to this environment.

Beginning that year (1914) his paintings were accepted to the annual exhibitions at the National Academy of Design at New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at Philadelphia, and the Art Institute of Chicago, a practice he continued until 1935.

In a 1913 interview, W. Herbert Dunton stated, "This is the ideal place for me because there are more varieties of atmosphere than I have found in any other place. . . . There are several varieties of sage and cactus for backgrounds, according to the elevation that you choose. The Taos Indians are as fine types as I have ever seen and if one wants to paint a Mexican picture he can get a background almost anywhere near Taos".

Although he thrived creatively in his western environment, by leaving his old career he forfeited the sure income of commercial illustration and lived in near poverty for the rest of his life.

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Buck Dunton on Horse, 1916
Courtesy Bob Evans

In July 1915, Dunton helped found the Taos Society of Artists with Berninghaus, Blumenschein, Couse, Phillips, and Sharp, and exhibited with the Taos Society all over the United States during its annual exhibition circuits. He resigned from the Society in 1922, however, perhaps because of a disparaging remark made by Walter Ufer about Blumenschein.

Forced to market his work alone, between 1922 and the early 1930s Dunton arranged one-man exhibitions in places such as Kansas City, Missouri; Tulsa and Ponca City, Oklahoma; and the major cities in Texas: Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio. In 1923 he was commissioned to paint three murals for the Missouri State Capitol

With the effects of the Depression affecting sales, Dunton turned to portrait drawings and lithography to make art that was affordable during lean times. He also painted under the Public Works of Art Project in New Mexico.

Dunton's health began to decline as early as 1928 when he was injured by a "rambunctious mare" and suffered from duodenal ulcers. His health continued to deteriorate and, in 1935, prostrate cancer was discovered followed by diagnoses of stomach and lung cancer. On March 18, 1936, W. Herbert "Buck" Dunton died at Taos at age 57.

The Stark Museum of Art owns nearly 400 Dunton works. Selected collections are at the Eiteljorg Museum, Kit Carson Memorial Museums, Museum of New Mexico, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, The Rockwell Museum, and the San Antonio Art League.

His personal philosophy can be heard in this statement by him, "There is one thing positive, had I lived in Merriweather Lewis's, Audubon's or even as late as Catlin or Francis Parkman's day, no life of mine would be thrown away painting pictures, when I could live the greater part of a year alone with my rifle and a few pack animals among the host of buffalo -- the antelope, the great bands of elk . . . "

"Personally, he was a true western character -- not quite a hero, but an independent man of action. He missed the company of heroic figures or men of pure intent that he assumed had occupied the real West, but certainly inhabited the mythic West. Dunton's nostalgia underlies much of his work . . . 'Yesterday' was Dunton's preferred world. Whether it was inhabited by scouts, prospectors or cowboys, he saw a world in which physical skill accomplished the day's tasks, a meal was right at the end of a gun or fishing pole, and distinctions between right and wrong were simply made." (February 1988 Sports Afield)

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6" x 9 1/4, opening in matte. Original photo of William Herbert "Buck" Dunton, the western painter and illustrator in front of his studio in Taos, New Mexico circa 1910. Photographer unknown. Photo is in fine condition, frame in good condition. This photograph is from the collection of Judge Oliver Seth, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Offered on ebaY, Nov. 4, 2000. Asking price was $300

On a genealogical note, he had at least one brother, John, who was born in 1880. W. Herbert Dunton married Nellie Gertrude Hartley and through this union was rewarded with two children -- a daughter Vivian Ernestine born July 19, 1907 and died March 1987, and a son, Ivan Harley Dunton, born October 22, 1913 and died September 1987.


The following photographs depict Buck Dunton painting a major work called "The Ranchman's Daughter".  The paintings whereabouts are to date unknown.

The model is W. Herbert Dunton's niece, Ada Hartley and date to 1916 when she visited her Aunt Nellie and Uncle Buck in Taos.

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W. Herbert Dunton Painting Outdoors with Model
Courtesy Fenn Galleries, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Buck Painting Ada
Courtesy Bob Evans
Ada watching Buck Paint
Courtesy Bob Evans

Examples of W. Herbert Dunton's signatures:

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Bibliography:

Much of the above biography was from "W. Herbert Dunton: A Retrospective", by Michael R. Grauer, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas, 1991 (note: This publication still available.  Contact the author at mgrauer@pphm.wtamu.edu for details) as well as an update biography written in 1997 and submitted to us by Michael.

"The Art and Life of W. Herbert Dunton", by Julie Schimmel, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas

"W. Herbert Dunton: The Man & His Art", by Julie Schimmel, Sports Afield, February 1988


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