Roger Brown Study Collection: Painter of the Dunes
Living in the New Buffalo dunes, in Modernist buildings with much glass, gave Brown a rich exposure to the natural world around him. From the late 1970s until about 1983 Brown made approximately 40 paintings that address the dunes landscape—its plant, bird, insect, and animal life—and the weather effects of the Lake Michigan shoreline. (These do not include a number of paintings about general weather conditions or events, also a major concern of Brown's.) He made the trip from Chicago to New Buffalo frequently, and several paintings reference places en route from the city to the dunes, highlighting the nature/culture dichotomy, and points where they overlap. A selection of works from this time include Painter of the Dunes (1977) (fig. 1), which is reflective of his landscape paintings from the early to mid 1970s, and depicts the houses, dune buggies, and people that populate the dunes. Lake Effect (1980) (fig. 2) is one of several awe-struck homages to the atmospheric conditions of the lakeshore. South Works After Lake Effect(1980) (fig. 3) could be a detail of Lake Effect, focusing on the eerie presence of the steel mills that dominate much of the Indiana lakeshore.
A View From a Toll Road (1981) (fig. 4) also reflects the drive through Indiana, where an intensely industrial landscape exists within the dunes, without obliterating its unique natural features. Swamp Rose Mallow: A View From Afar (1980) (fig. 5) suggests a memory or yearning for the dunes flora from the vantage point of Chicago, where Celebration of the Uncultivated: A Garden of the Wild (1980) (fig. 6) and Michigan Color Watch—Things That Go Bump In The Day (1981) (fig. 7) present the panorama of dunes wildflowers without the backdrop or memory of the urban setting.
My House in the Dunes (1982) (fig. 8) portrays the home and studio/guest house designed by Veronda, which functioned as the lens through which Brown focused his attention on the natural landscape. In Interdunal Pond with Jack Pines and Juniper (1983) (fig. 9), Brown considers the beauty of the dunes ecology. Michigan City Sand Dune Mt. Baldy (fig. 10) is a crescendo in Brown's works addressing his experiences in the dunes in this time period. Brown presents a voluptuous image of Mt. Baldy––one of the striking and popular landscape features in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, rear-lit a signature sky-scape. Dwarfed by this magnificent dune landscape, the buzz of human life is represented in a baseline of passing trucks and astonished observers.