The Starving Artist
After serving in the U.S. Marines in the Pacific conflict of World War II, Walter W. Dawley enrolled at Kansas State University and studied art under John H. Helm, Jr..
In 1947, to further his art studies, he moved his family to Santa Fe, New Mexico. For a time he and his wife, Winfred, and 4 year old son, David, lived on the outskirts of Santa Fe on the Albuquerque Highway in a log, guest house with a real ice box, a chemical toilet and an old bed whose slats would slip out of place in the middle of the night.
Walter started his Santa Fe art studies at the Stanley Brenizer school on Canyon Road. This formal training was supplemented, as he worded it, ". . . by presuming upon acquaintances to pick the brains of John Stewart Curry, John Sloan, Randal Davey, Leon Franks, Will Shuster, and many others . . ."
By 1948 he and his family had moved into Santa Fe proper. That year he and Winfred were the first to open a commercial gallery in the adobe house next door to the Oldest House in the U.S.A. on De Vargas Street, then a dirt road. Walter quickly became a close friend to his neighbor, J. Hobbson Bass, a well known scenic photographer whose wife was at the time the proprietor of the gift shop in the Oldest House.
While working as a draftsman for a local engineering company, he continued his art studies and became a close friend to Will Shuster, the artist who created Zozobra, and to Jock Cartier, a well known dancer who for decades was the torch wielding tormentor at the giant puppet’s skirts.
In 1951 Walter and his wife bought The Artist’s Exchange (later The Three Cities of Spain Restaurant) at 724 Canyon Road from artist and silversmith Tom Drice. At the time this was only gallery on Canyon Road. For a year and a half or so, Walter and his wife, son and daughter lived in the back rooms of the historic building and operated the "Exchange" in the massive fromt room.
During this time the gallery offered Tuesday evening figure studies with nude models in the large front room of the gallery. These study sessions became an artist social event, attended at one time or another by nearly every local artist, including Alfred Morang, Howard Bobbs, Tom Drice, Hal West, and Gerald Cassidy, among others.
The Artist's Exchange was also the stop over place for the Indian trader Don Pablo, the founder of Apache Junction, Arizona, when he made his yearly trading excursions.
Also during this time a lady named Rosalea Murphy operated a small restaurant in the 600 block of Canyon Road. The candle lighted, wooden tables and benches became an evening gathering place for many of the local artists desiring good Italian and Southwestern Mexican food and conversation. Later, Rosalie moved to another Canyon Road location and opened the first Pink Adobe Restaurant.
Unfortunately, being on a potholed, dirt road and some distance from the Plaza, the Artist’s Exchange proved to cost more than it made. In 1953, the Dawleys gave up the Exchange and from Eastern artist Ira Moskowitz, purchased a small adobe home on a mountain side overlooking the end of Upper Canyon Road.
Walter continued to work for the engineering firm an to ply his art whenever he could. By this time he had become proficient with oil paints and water colors and had developed his own style of realism.
During the mid to late fifties several of Walter’s friends and contemporaries began to open small, home-front studios on Lower Canyon Road. Among these were Howard Bobbs and Hal West. Walter’s work was displayed and sold in most of these galleries. Santa Fe was on its way to becoming an art Mecca.
In 1958 Walter and Winfred were divorced and Walter took up residence in the back room of the building at 724 Canyon Road, the room that had been Winfred and his bedroom when they operated the Artist’s Exchange in the same building.
A short time later Walter married Alfred Morang’s informally adopted daughter, Claire LaTour, who was herself an artist. The marriage lasted only a couple of years, during which time Walter became one of the first artists to ply his trade for tourist consumption on the Plaza.
It was 1962 before he was able to devote full time to his painting. He then apprenticed himself to a ten year period of “itinerant” sidewalk portraiture, working on the Santa Fe plaza summers and in varied warmer locations from Florida to Hawaii the rest of the year. During this time he estimated he had drawn more than 40,000 "heads" plus many, many tourist-oriented scenics, so that his work is now owned by people, common and uncommon, all over the world. "The sidewalk," he said, "is the world’s greatest art school, where the models pay the artist to practice on them."
Using Indian ink and a watercolor brush, Walter developed what he called “Instant Impressions”. These captured in five to ten seconds, with ten or twelve strokes of the brush the impression of a person’s likeness. At only 50 cents each, these 5 inch by 7 inch works were very well received and provided a bread and butter subsistence for the struggling artist.
In the mid to late 60s, Walter joined his friends and, a few doors down from The Three Cities, opened his own studio-front gallery. He began to switch from oil paints to acrylics. His scenics and realism paintings were hung and sold in nearly every Canyon Road gallery, even when he closed his own shop and took to spending his winters in New Orleans working the “Fence" in Jackson Square, where he sold pastel and charcoal portraits and New Orleans watercolor scenes.
Throughout the late sixties and early seventies Walter shuttled back and forth between these two art centers. During this time he developed what he called a "paper stone" form of lithography, wherein he would produce an original art work on a paper, offset-press plate and stand by while the printer ran off reproductions of his work. Generally by the hundred and fiftieth copy, Walter would see the quality begin to deteriorate and stop the press. He sold hundreds of these signed and numbered prints of Santa Fe area and New Orleans scenes as well as many nudes.
In the mid-seventies Walter developed lung cancer. This eventually made it impossible for him to use his long developed talents with pencil, pen and brush. For the next few years he turned to photography as a means of survival.
Using a slide projector and a sheet of photographic paper taped to his refrigerator’s front, he produced what he called a paper negative. This was then developed in his kitchen sink and dried. Afterward the paper negative was placed over a fresh sheet of photographic paper and the overhead kitchen light was turned on. While he made a cup of instant coffee, the final print was exposed through the "negative". The print was then developed in his kitchen sink, dried and matted for sale.
In Santa Fe, in 1980, at 59 years of age, Walter succumbed to the cancer.
Reproduction of any artwork displayed in the gallery or of any artwork purchased from the gallery without expressed, written permission from the Starving Artist Gallery will be considered copyright infringement and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.