Organizations* : Taos SA
William Herbert Dunton, known later in life as “Buck,” was born in Augusta, Maine. His lifelong passion for the outdoors was nurtured from an early age by his grandfather, who took him on expeditions, teaching him about hunting and fishing. Drawing the outdoors followed naturally. As a child, Dunton was self-taught, developing a precise style that would lead to a successful career as an illustrator. He first sold drawings to a magazine at age 16, when he quit school to work as a professional illustrator.
Dunton continued his education as an artist with classes at the Cowles Art School in Boston, and at the Art Student’s League in New York City. During that time, he illustrated for Harper’s Weekly, Collier’s, Woman’s Home Companion, Scribner’s, Cosmopolitan, and several other magazines. He also illustrated numerous books, including several of the classic cowboy stories of Zane Grey.
In search for subject material for illustrations of western life, Dunton went out West to Montana in 1896. For the next 15 years, he spent every summer traveling the western states, doing sketches that would become the basis for his magazine illustrations. In 1912, tired of the pressures of deadlines and the demands of editors, Dunton was enrolled at the Art Student’s League for a class with Ernest Blumenschein, the well-known western painter who had been instrumental in establishing the artist colony at Taos, New Mexico. It was not long before Blumenschein suggested that Dunton would be happier living out West in Taos. Dunton complied that very summer, intent on leaving the pressures of New York behind in order to focus seriously on his painting. He remained in Taos for the rest of his life, eventually becoming a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, an alliance created to exhibit and promote art, although he resigned from the Society in 1922.
In Taos, Dunton pursued his favorite subject matter, the open range, hunters, cowboys on horseback, and scenes representing native life before the influx of Europeans. He was particularly concerned with recording the ways and appearances of the Old West, a lifestyle that he felt was significant, and that was fading before his very eyes. “The West has passed – more’s the pity. In another 25 years the old-time westerner will have gone too – gone with the buffalo and the antelope. I’m going to hand down to posterity a bit of the unadulterated real thing…”
Dunton’s health began its long decline in 1928, when he was injured by a horse and began suffering from ulcers. He continued to deteriorate, and was finally diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1935. Dunton died in Taos the following year at the age of 57. Private and public collectors nationwide collected his work, including Douglas Fairbanks, Franklin Roosevelt and H. J. Lutcher Stark. The Stark Museum in Orange, Texas houses the largest collections of his work in the United States.