Louis Bunce in Salem

January 21-February 26
Bush Barn Art Center | 600 Mission St. SE

Louis Bunce (1907−1983), one of Oregon’s most significant artists of the mid-twentieth century, conducted much of his career in Portland supplemented by extended stays in New York. But at an important juncture of his career he lived and worked in Salem. He is a notable figure in the history of the Salem Art Association, and his work is included in Salem collections to this day.

Bunce’s three works presented here are on loan from local collectors on the occasion of the exhibition Louis Bunce: Dialogue with Modernism at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art through March 26.

Louis (generally pronounced “Louie”) Bunce was born and spent his childhood in Wyoming, moving with his family to Oregon in 1920. In Portland, he attended Jefferson High School and in 1925 enrolled at the Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art). After a year of study, he and his friend and fellow student William Givler traveled to New York to enroll at the Art Students League. There, Bunce met another student who had been born in Wyoming and hailed from the west. This was Jackson Pollock (1912−1956), and Bunce’s friendship with Pollock and other New York artists provided him with an enduring connection to the scene there.

During 1938−1939, Louis Bunce lived in Salem, working as instructor and assistant director at the WPA Federal Art Center. It was in Salem that he met Eda Hult, and on Christmas Day 1938 they were married at the American Lutheran Church on North Church Street.

The Salem Federal Art Center, located in the old Salem High School on the site currently occupied by Macy’s department store, was recognized as a model New Deal community art center and represents a key chapter in the history of the Salem Art Association. At the Center, Bunce directed students in designing murals for the library at Bush Elementary School. Working from studies by Clifford Gleason and another student, Bunce executed the murals Alice in Wonderland and Arabian Nights. When Bush School was razed in 2005, the murals were moved to the auditorium at North Salem High School, where they may be seen during school events or by appointment.

More recent works by Bunce are on permanent public view at other locations in Salem. At the Salem Public Library, his painting View (1973) hangs in the audio-visual room on the ground floor. View was a gift to the library from SAA. At the Oregon Capitol, Midway No. 4 (1975) is displayed just inside the south entrance as part of the state’s Percent for Art Collection.

As the works shown here at Bush Barn Art Center suggest, Louis Bunce worked in a variety of modernist styles, responding to many movements in twentieth-century European and American art.  In his dialogue with modernism, he reflected and illuminated the art of his era.

Image: Louis Bunce, Burned Earth Spring, 1954, Collection of Irene Longaker

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