Charles Robert Culbertson Dye III was born October 30, 1906 in Cañon City, Colorado. His father was also named Charles Robert Culbertson Dye, and was born 1849 in Ohio. His mother was Irene Dye, born 1869 in Illinois. His parents had two children. His older sister was Florence Dye. They lived on a farm at 511 River Street. His father was in the real estate business.
The artist referred to Cañon City, which is pronounced "Canyon City," as a "cow town where I first rode for ranchers as a boy."
He had a natural drawing talent and enjoyed sketching while he worked as a cow hand. "I cannot recall a time when I was not on horseback, or not portraying the ranching life in pen and pencil."
By the age of twenty he had worked on cattle ranches in Colorado, California, and Oregon. In 1923 he was thrown from his horse and broke a leg. While recovering in a hospital he was given a book on the western artist Charles Russell. He was so inspired by the work he decided to become an artist.
He had difficulty winning approval from his father to pursue this new career. According to the artist,"My old man could have forgiven me if I had decided to be a piano player in a whore house, but an artist rated one step below a pimp in his book!"
In 1926 he moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute. The artist, who was an impressive raconteur, later claimed to have been employed at this time as a semi-pro football player, as well as a bodyguard to Chicago "businessman" Al Capone.
In 1928 he married his wife, Mary Dye. They lived at 7639 Eastlake Terrace, Chicago. They had one son, Steve Dye, who grew up to become an accomplished pianist.
In September 1933 he began to study at the American Academy of Art. His wife also took interior design classes at the same school.
In 1935 he completed his studies at the American Academy of Art, where he studied illustration with Carl Arthur Schmidt.
In 1936 he moved to New York City and opened a freelance art studio at 166 East 56th Street. He continued his studies at the Art Students League, and he also studied with Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central School of Art.
He sold cover paintings for pulp magazines, such as Adventure, Walt Colburn's Western, and Argosy, all of which were published by Popular Publications.
During WWII he was exempt from military service, possibly because of earlier injuries to his leg. As the war progressed he began to receive assignments from higher-paying slick magazines, such as The American Weekly, Coronet, and The Saturday Evening Post. Publishers of these magazines suddenly needed illustrators to replace their regular artists, most of whom had been drafted.
In the 1950s he received regular assignments to paint covers and interior story illustrations for men's adventure magazines, such as Saga, Outdoor Life, and Argosy.
By 1960 changing tastes made it difficult for classic illustrators to find steady work, so Charles Dye returned to his roots and painted the Western art that had first inspired him to become an artist.
In 1962 he moved to Sedona, Arizona, and in 1965 he helped to found the Cowboy Artists of America, along with other retired pulp artists, such as Tom Lovell and Nick Eggenhofer.
According to the artist, "Today we can make a living painting. I don't mean little squirty things, but real work being sold through big galleries. People are buying this stuff because they maybe feel the era of the cowboy is just about on its last legs. People are groping for something that is not so damned mechanical or artificial as life has become. There is no 'ism' tied to the tail of my painting. Maybe it doesn't stack up to much with the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but there is one helluva lot of people buying it in small towns. It doesn't bother me not to be in a big museum. I don't paint for the honor of it. I do it because I like to paint and I like to eat! Those that buy my works are cow people and others that believe old Mother Nature knew her oats when she made the West and her finest animal, the horse."
His favorite horse was called "Model."
While suffering from terminal cancer, Charles Dye died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at home in Sedona, AZ, at the age of sixty-six on January 22, 1973.
© David Saunders 2009