Indiana University Press recently published James Dabbert’s book, The Indiana Dunes Revisited: Frank V. Dudley and the 1917 Dunes Pageant, the title for the 215-page catalogue and current exhibition, closing December 10, at Valparasio University's Brauer Museum of Art in Valparaiso, Ind. Both the catalogue and exhibition celebrate the centenary of the 1917 Dunes Pageant, the effort of a diverse activist community to establish a national Dunes Park. Fittingly, Dudley’s painting of the Dunes Pageant illustrates the catalogue cover.
Born of deaf parents at Delavan, Wisconsin, Frank Dudley (1868-1957) began his art career sketching the rolling hills and lakes of his boyhood haunts in southern Wisconsin. His love of landscape led him to the Art Institute of Chicago, with his younger brother Clarence soon to follow. The brothers established a portrait photography shop in the Union Park neighborhood on Chicago’s near west side. In the 1890s, Union Park Superintendent Jens Jensen was then experimenting with native prairie plants in his “American Garden,” just across the street from the Dudley brothers as they moved from one boarding house to another, first on the east and then the west side of the park. By the turn of the century, Clarence Dudley and Jens Jensen were in the Indiana Dunes with their cameras, interested in the moving sand hills and unique plant life.
Beginning in 1896, the Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan’s southern shore drew the interests of botanist Henry Chandler Cowles, whose work on plant succession at the University of Chicago established the Dunes as North America’s "birthplace of ecology." In 1908, Jens Jensen began leading hikes to the Dunes, later establishing the Prairie Club that took the lead in a regional conservationist movement. Frank Dudley, established as a landscape artist in Chicago, followed his brother to the Dunes, finding purpose for his art and a mission to help preserve a landscape.
The 1917 Dunes Pageant brought tens of thousands to Waverly Beach on Memorial Day to push for a national park. Frank Dudley painted the scene, devoting his career to painting the Dunes for the next forty years. As the struggle continues today between private industry and environmentalists, Dudley’s pictures of his beloved Dunes remind us still of the need to protect the fragile landscape on Lake Michigan’s southern shores.
The 2006 catalogue, The Indiana Dunes Revealed: The Art of Frank V. Dudley, edited by James Dabbert, with four essays by Dabbert, J. Ronald Engel and Joan Gibb Engel, Wendy Greenhouse, and William H. Gerdts, is still available from University of Illinois Press and is recommended by Midwest Book Review for supplemental reading lists in the areas of environmental studies and American Midwestern history.