Artist Profile: Dr. Dan Dunnahoo
Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 6 of Kitchen Drawer Magazine
By Elaine Krugman with Betsy Harris
Photos by Elaine Krugman
On any given day, you can find Dr. Dan Dunnahoo up to his elbows in clay or paint, completely absorbed in creating a work of art. "Dr. D," as his former students call him, seems to be making up for lost time. During the 28 years he had been teaching and involved in extracurricular activities at Pike County High School, his paintbrushes mostly stood dry in a tin can in the corner of his bedroom, and the potter’s wheel outside his house was still.
All of that changed a few years ago when Dan reluctantly left his classroom. “I retired in 2009 to take care of my wife, who was ill, and then she passed away in May of 2012,” he reflected. “All of these paintings have been done in the last few months.”
The seven paintings to which he referred were previously displayed at Journey Church in Griffin and will be exhibited at Griffin First United Methodist Church's Welcome Center beginning November 1 in conjunction with the publication of this article. A reception for Dr. Dunnahoo will be held at the same location on November 14 from 5:30-6:30 pm. (As the date of the next Griffin Area Concert Association concert at the Griffin Auditorium, November 14 was selected in hopes that members of our community will go from the exhibit to the concert with a stop for dinner in between.)
“All of these paintings are done from photographs I took on two trips to Italy,” Dan explained. When I saw Dan's paintings from a distance, I thought they were photographs rather than paintings done from photos. It was striking just how similar Dan’s painting of Ponte Vecchio, in Florence, was to a photograph I had taken from the very same vantage point back in 2005.
Dan’s parents recognized his gift with a paintbrush and oils early in his life. As he explained, “I had an eye for detail even at a young age. At age 11, I got my first oil painting set for Christmas. Right away, I created a still life, using fruit from my stocking. I grew up in Thomaston—shy, a loner—and every day after school I went to my room to paint.”
Drawing and painting became both a life-long passion and Dan's chosen college major at the University of Georgia. Understanding how difficult it would be to survive financially as an artist, though, he then earned his Master’s and doctoral degrees in art education. “I majored in drawing and painting, and the only way to make a living is to teach,” he lamented.
Teaching art turned out to be something Dan loved so much that his students became the subject of a summer course assignment for his doctoral degree. “Our assignment was to bring to class a container for the things we treasured—not the things themselves. I talked some of my students into letting me take their photographs, so I made a series of black and white pictures, because that was what I treasured—my students. I brought those to class because any work of art is a container—for your thoughts, ideas—so that was my interpretation of the assignment.” Clearly, Dan is not only creative but also contemplative. No doubt his professor was impressed with his response to the assignment.
His former students are such treasures that he has gotten in touch with many of them to see how they are progressing with their art. Some of them have gone on to become graphic designers or photographers; six are professional photographers in the Griffin area. “If they have the talent and ability, I always encourage them to explore a career as an artist and at least give it a shot,” Dan said.
Inspired by Johannes Vermeer, Robert Rauschenberg, and a 19th century American artist named William Harnett, Dan has returned to creating his own works of art, taking the advice he gave so encouragingly to his students for 28 years. Preferring to paint in oils, Dan concentrates on his favorite subjects, architecture and landscapes. “Every painting has a very special meaning to me. When I do a painting, I do it for a purpose, either for me or for someone else,” Dan explained, adding that he has painted only one portrait, the subject of which is his wife during their trip to Italy.
A former student was the grateful recipient of his most recent painting which was done from a photograph Dan found on her Facebook page. The art educator knew the works of Claude Monet were her favorites, and the qualities of this particular photograph struck Dan as being much like a painting by that Impressionist. The subject is a lone duck swimming in the reflecting pool of the Washington Monument. Rippling water caused by the duck’s movement gives a Monet-like appearance to the monument and trees reflected in the pond. The completed painting looks like a replica of the photograph.
On a recent sunny afternoon I felt honored to view this painting while visiting Dan’s home studio. Nestled behind tall trees on his heavily wooded property in Zebulon, this “loner” creates his paintings by the large window of his stunning master bedroom. Taking advantage of the sun exposure, Dan designed the bedroom—and the entire house—to utilize as little consumable energy as possible.
Not only is his home an architectural gem, but it is also filled with gorgeous wood furniture Dan built himself. From the kitchen cabinets to a china cabinet, from a chair to a four-poster bed, so many beautiful wood pieces were available to admire. Dan even painstakingly built the fireplace surround.
Outside, under the carport, the potter’s wheel sits in front of a tall, thick stand of trees. Dan sat down in his tattered clay- and paint-stained jeans to brush up on his technique, preparing for a demonstration he would be giving two days later at his church. In five minutes’ time, again up to his elbows in clay, he created a perfectly shaped vessel.
Don’t take my word for it. Check out his paintings for yourself. I predict that you’ll find them as arresting as I did.
To view Dan Dunnahoo’s earlier works, stop by Safehouse Coffee Roasters at 109 South Hill Street. Following the exhibition of Dan's more recent works at Griffin First United Methodist Church, Dan will be exhibiting his paintings at A Novel Experience (426 Thomaston Street, Zebulon) in January.