Harvey Thomas Dunn was born March 8, 1884 on his parent's homestead near Manchester, South Dakota. His father was Thomas Dunn, a farmer, and his mother was Bertha Dunn, a farmer's wife. He had an older sister and a younger brother. They lived in a sod house on the prairie of Red Stone Valley. He worked as a plowboy until he was 17 and remained a large and powerful man throughout his life.
From 1901-02 he studied at South Dakota Agriculture College, in Brookings, where his art teacher encouraged him to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, which he did from 1902-1904. He then studied with Howard Pyle for the next two years at Chadds Ford, PA, and Wilmington, DE. He was deeply influenced by Pyle's philosophy of art and life. He was a Christian Scientist.
In 1908 Harvey Dunn married Johanne "Tulla" L. Krebs of Wilmington, DE.
In 1911 Howard Pyle received several mural commissions, and in preparation traveled to Italy to study the masters, but he tragically died in Florence. Afterwards, Harvey Dunn moved to Leonia New Jersey to establish his own art studio from which he sold illustrations to The Saturday Evening Post, Harper's, Red Book, American Legion Monthly, Collier's, and Scribner's magazines.
He also painted pulp covers for Street & Smith's The Popular Magazine, a twice monthly pulp magazine of manly adventure fiction "for the common man."
In 1915 he opened the Leonia School of Illustration.
During WWI, Dunn was one of only eight official war artists of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). After the war, he moved to Tenafly, NJ.
From 1926 to 1942 he taught at the Grand Central School of Art, which held classes on the top floor of the actual terminal building. Students rode a special elevator located on track 23 to the sky-lighted 7th floor. The Grand Central Terminal was the heart of America's modern streamlined industrial commerce. This setting inspired Dunn's students to consider the power of their own commercial work to elevate mass media to a higher level of art, by generously filling their work with the power of their unique inner spirit. Among his many pupils were pulp artists Lyman Anderson, Ernest Chiriacka, John Clymer, Dean Cornwell, Curtis Delano, Don Hewitt, Norman Saunders, Amos Sewell, Gloria Stoll, and Herbert Morton Stoops. Dunn believed the purpose of illustration was to set the stage for the reader's imagination. He would often select a scene that was not described in detail in the text, in order to concentrate on depicting the mood of the story instead of the details. Dunn's approach to painting was to first establish the darker tones that provide base color values and contrasts and then build up to the light tones. Figures started with the heads, and the heads had to remain the most interesting elements in the final painting.
After WW2, Dunn only taught occasional seminars. He was the President of the Society of Illustrators, and he used that platform to vigorously attack changes in the publishing industry that threatened to destroy the noble humanist traditons of illustration art. Dunn could see that the need of corporate mass marketing to control a unified media message would soon destroy the classic era of freelance illustration by stifling the voice of the artist's individual creativity. Up until then magazines had used art editors to make curatorial selections from trusted artists, but that cordial relationship ended when art editors were replaced by art directors, or as Dunn called them, "art dictators!," whose prescribed assignments were best fabricated by anonymous graphic studios. "If I can't sign my own name on a painting, why would I bother to paint it! I'd rather quit the business and paint landscapes. If you ever amount to anything at all, it will be because you are true to that deep desire or ideal which made you seek artistic expression." — Harvey Dunn
He died of cancer at age 68 on October 29, 1952.
© David Saunders 2009