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'Dakota Woman' prints made for first time in decades

New prints of "Dakota Woman," by Harvey Dunn, are available at Dakota Discovery Museum in Mitchell. The museum is hosting an art auction at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. (Image courtesy of Dakota Discovery Museum)

Famous artwork probably doesn't often get peddled in a station wagon, but that's how one of Harvey Dunn's most famous works came to rest in Mitchell.

Though it's not for sale, Dakota Discovery Museum Executive Director Lori Holmberg said "Dakota Woman" will be one of many works available for viewing at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the museum's Changing Tastes Art Auction. Recently made prints of the work also are available for the first time in close to 20 years, she said.

Holmberg said that according to the history she's read and been told, in the late 1940s or early 1950s, shortly before the famed South Dakota artist's death, Dunn loaded up his artwork into his vehicle -- she believes it was a station wagon -- and drove to Dakota Wesleyan University, intending to donate some of his works to the Friends of the Middle Border. That was the name of the organization that founded Dakota Discovery Museum.

But, Holmberg said, that was not to be.

"We could not guarantee him we would be able to build a suitable facility to house them in," Holmberg said. "We were kind of a little nonprofit."

Another story holds that Dunn gave Leland Case, one of the founders of Dakota Discovery Museum, his choice of Dunn paintings and Case chose "Dakota Woman."

However "Dakota Woman" ended up in Mitchell, Dunn ended up taking the majority of his works to Brookings, where they eventually became a permanent part of the South Dakota Art Museum. He didn't take everything, though.

"The story goes that he did leave us 'Dakota Woman,' maybe because it's the biggest one," Holmberg said with a chuckle.

"Maybe he was tired of hauling it around."

Now one of the Dakota Discovery Museum's more famous treasures, the painting depicts a pioneer woman sitting on a blanket on the prairie with an umbrella and a baby, and a worn-looking house in the background.

Part of the painting's appeal is the woman's expression, which is open to interpretation.

The oil-based painting measures 5 feet by 4 feet and weighs more than 100 pounds, Holmberg said.

It's partly the sheer size of the work that has hindered making prints, she said, which hadn't been attempted since the late 1990s -- until now.

In order to create the print, Holmberg said the work had to be removed from its frame, transported to Watertown and then passed 14 times through an industrial-sized scanner.

"Harvey Dunn's works are so hard to capture with their color, and the texture and the depth," she said. "It was always a challenge, but technology finally caught up with us."

Some parts of the painting have close to half an inch of paint thickness, Holmberg estimates. That's why it took 14 scans, she said, to try to capture all of the detail. And each time, she said she held her breath, hoping nothing would be damaged.

"I'm like, 'oh please, don't crush everything,' " Holmberg said. "There was considerable risk involved, not only in transporting it, but the high intensity of the light from scanners."

High risk yielded a high-quality reward, though.

"Now we have a high-quality digital capture of it, so we should never have to do that again," she said.

Prints are available in three sizes, she said, varying in price from $15 to $40 to $100, the latter being for the largest 17x21 print.

All prints, she said, are on high-quality archival paper with archival ink, and should last for 100 years without fading, "as long as they're not hung in a nice, bright window."

The prints were made just ahead of the Changing Tastes Art Auction, a museum fundraiser. Holmberg said the evening will boast more than 100 pieces of silent and live-auction items, including original watercolor works by local artist Don Durfee, an iron sculptural piece by local artisan blacksmith Clark Martinek, a large Celtic tapestry and a Thomas Kinkade limited edition print.

"It's an extremely eclectic exhibit," Holmberg said. "There's a little bit of everything."

She said the evening will start at 6:30 p.m., with about an hour of time for attendees to enjoy desserts, wines and the music of the Con Brio Studio.

The silent auction will start about 7:30 p.m., and the live auction, which will consist of 20-25 items, will begin about 8 p.m.

"We just really encourage people to come out and have a good time," she said. "Take a look at 'Dakota Woman' in person and see how good the prints really did turn out."

Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Tickets are available at the Dakota Discovery Museum at 996-2122, County Fair, or the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce.