About Frank V. Dudley
Frank Dudley dedicated forty years of his professional life as a landscape painter to the promotion and preservation of the Indiana Dunes. The movement to ‘Save the Dunes’ and establish a national Dunes park was borne of the progressive era in Midwestern political life centered in Chicago in the early years of the twentieth century. Encroaching industrial development along the southern shores of Lake Michigan threatened the Dunes, the focus of a nascent science of ecology established a generation earlier at the University of Chicago by botanist Henry Chandler Cowles. He claimed, ‘Nowhere perhaps in the entire world of plants does the struggle for life take on such dramatic and spectacular phases as in the Dunes.’
Frank Dudley lived a long and creative life. He was born of deaf parents in Delavan, Wisconsin on November 14, 1868, the eldest of three brothers, all with normal hearing. In 1887, at age 19, he left home to study art in Chicago, and in 1902 he established his career as a landscape painter by exhibiting at the Art Institute. Clarence Dudley followed his brother’s lead and exhibited fine art photographs of the Indiana Dunes at the Art Institute in 1905. Though reluctant initially, Frank began to regularly tramp the Dunes with his painting gear by 1911.
Industrial development from Chicago was fast moving east along the Lake Michigan shoreline into the Dunes. The United States Steel Corporation already owned duneland property, laying out the town of Gary in 1906. In an effort to protect the natural landscape, Jens Jensen, a conservationist who advocated for the establishment of the Forest Preserves surrounding Chicago, led the first of a series of ‘Saturday Afternoon Walking Trips’ in the spring of 1908 east of Gary and Miller to Mt. Tom, the highest of the Indiana Dunes. These weekend hikers organized themselves into the Prairie Club, with Jens Jensen and Clarence Dudley among its first directors.
The Prairie Club’s beach house, built in 1913 near Mt. Tom, became the center of a campaign for a national Dunes park. That same year, Jens Jensen founded Friends of Our Native Landscape, bestowing the new organization with the clear purpose of preserving natural landscapes for the public and providing sanctuaries for wild plant and animal life.
In support of a National Sand Dunes Park, Director Stephen Mather of the National Park Service held a hearing in Chicago in 1916, and the Prairie Club rallied support for the Dunes movement with an outdoor pageant staged in the late spring of 1917. As tens of thousands gathered in a natural amphitheater in the Dunes, Dudley painted The Dunes Pageant, showing the unfolding scene below from the southern rim of the blowout. He then began painting the Dunes with passion and to the near exclusion of all else. In May 1918, Dudley exhibited thirty paintings at the Art Institute. The first painting in his one-man show was The Land of Sky and Song, one of his largest landscapes. His perseverance in painting the Dunes was rewarded when he received the Art Institute’s prestigious Logan Medal in 1921 for his painting Duneland. His triumph came in 1923 with the establishment of the Indiana Dunes State Park, the remarkable accomplishment of a diverse activist community including Friends of Our Native Landscape, the conservation organization to which he devoted his life.
Dudley’s paintings were popular, and he exhibited at the annual Hoosier Salon from 1925 to 1943, and at the Chicago Galleries Association from 1927 to 1956. His 1931 Chicago Galleries exhibition served as a ten-year retrospective celebrating the building of his Duneland Studio, is spiritual home in the Dunes. He exhibited Waverly Beach showing the newly constructed Dunes Park pavilion. Other paintings included The Studio, an interior studio view showing a Dunes painting on an easel, one of seven paintings within the painting. The Playground of the Dunes was painted from a second story pavilion window, looking down on a uniformed park ranger standing before newly posted rules.
The 1931 exhibition also marked the end of an era, for the Prairie Club’s tenure in the Dunes was ending. Dudley’s own tenure was uncertain, for his studio cottage stood on land now owned by the state of Indiana. To extend their life in the Dunes, Dudley gave the state one painting a year for Cottage 108, the state’s name for his beloved Duneland Studio. Yearly rental paintings were selected by state officials from 1934 to 1952. Following his death in 1957, his wife Maida sold the state an additional 53 paintings in 1967. She reminisced about the Dunes that brought ‘a strange quiet peace to all our lives. The dunes were irresistible, fascinating to him. They were wild and majestic and fresh. He painted them in all seasons and communicated his emotion in them to others.’