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Dusti Bongé

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Subject: Blue Mountain College, Abstract expressionism, 1993 deaths, 1903 births
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Dusti Bongé

Dusti Bongé (née Eunice Lyle Swetman, 1903–1993) was an American artist.


  • Early life 1
  • Art career 2
  • Exhibitions of work 3
  • Museum collections 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Early life

Dusti Bongé, née Eunice Lyle Swetman, (1903-1993) was the youngest of three children born to a prominent Biloxi, Mississippi, banking family.

When she was young she was attracted to the arts and wrote, produced, directed and acted in plays starring other neighborhood children on the wide gallery of the family’s Beachfront home. Her interest in theater continued into adulthood. She graduated from Blue Mountain College in North Mississippi. After, she promptly went to Chicago where she studied acting and played bit parts on the stage. It was then she received her nickname, Dusti, from friends because they teased her about constantly washing her dusty face when she would return home through the bustling, dirty streets of the growing city. With spelling adjusted, the nickname stuck.

In Chicago, Dusti met and fell in love with Arch Bongé, a Nebraska “cowboy artist,” who was taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. They married in 1928. Dusti also showed promise as a painter and Arch encouraged her to work with him. Their only child, Lyle, was born in November 1929 in Biloxi, MS. Preferring to raise their child in Biloxi, the couple moved there permanently and Arch built himself a studio in the backyard. The couple painted together in the backyard studio until Arch died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1936. After his death, Dusti sought solace in the studio where they had worked together and began to paint seriously.

In the video, “Dusti Bongé, the Life of an Artist,” Dusti tells the story of her entry into the art world. [1] Although in later years, she had an active social life, dated and had numerous proposals, Dusti never remarried.

Art career

Dusti Bongé’s prolific art career spanned more than 55 years. Beginning painting in the mid-1930s, Dusti initially depicted scenes of her native Biloxi and still life compositions, in a sometimes realistic but often more modernist style.

In 1938, she began to experiment with Surrealism and worked in that style of over a decade. The Betty Parsons Gallery opened in New York in 1946 and Dusti forged a relationship with the Abstract Expressionist dealer who would represent her for many years.[2] In the early 1950s, her Surrealist style developed further as she began her depictions of “keyhole people.” The years 1953-1956 mark a transitional period in her work as she moves fully into Abstract Expressionism, the style in which she seemed to find her greatest satisfaction. Some of the work from this period features angular forms and paint surfaces that are etched and textured. Betty Parsons gave her her first solo exhibition in April 1956.

Dusti continued to work in a similar abstract style in the 1960s, but with a darker palette. Her final show at the Parsons gallery was in 1975, but she continued to create a very strong body of work, including some monumental oil paintings, through the next decade.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, small format watercolor paintings, many on Joss paper (sheets of bamboo or rice paper centered with a small square of gold or silver leaf) that was available at the local Asian markets, became her preferred medium. “It became a special challenge,” she said, “to make it seem as if I had placed that little square right there.” [3] She painted her last work in 1991.

Exhibitions of work

Bongé’s work has been exhibited at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans; the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi; the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi; the Mississippi Museum of Art; and the Mobile Museum of Art. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Mississippi Museum of Art; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; the Mobile Museum of Art; the National Museum of Women in the Arts; and the Johnson Collection in Spartanburg, South Carolina, as well as a number of private collections throughout the United States.

Museum collections

  • Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY [4]
  • The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, SC
  • Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS [5]
  • Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS [6]
  • Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL
  • Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA
  • Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY [7]
  • Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA
  • University of Southern Mississippi Art Museum, Hattiesburg, MS [8]
  • Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Ocean Springs, MS


  1. ^ "Dusti Bonge." MPB video, 29:49. Accessed May 1, 2015. early-personal-life/.
  2. ^ Black, Patti Carr, American Masters of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: George Ohr, Dusti Bongé, Walter Anderson, Richmond Barthe, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009. page #38.
  3. ^ Bonge, Paul, comp. Diaries in the Dusti Bonge Art Foundation.
  4. ^ The Heckscher Museum of Art. Accessed May 11, 2015.
  5. ^ Burton Computer Resources Inc. "Collections Database." Lauren Rogers Museum of Art. Accessed May 11, 2015.
  6. ^ "Tales from The Mississippi Story - Dusti Bongé." Mississippi Museum of Art. Last modified May 9, 2014. Accessed May 11, 2015.
  7. ^ The Museum of Modern Art. "DUSTI BONGÉ (AMERICAN, 1903–1993)." The Museum of Modern Art. Accessed May 11, 2015.
  8. ^ Digital Commons. "Untitled II." The Aquila Digital Community. Accessed May 11, 2015.

Further reading

  • Black, Patti Carr, American Masters of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: George Ohr, Dusti Bongé, Walter Anderson, Richmond Barthe, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
  • Black, Patti Carr, Art in Mississippi 1720-1980, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998.
  • Black, Patti Carr, The Mississippi Story, Jackson: Mississippi Museum of Art, 2007.
  • Bongé, Dusti, ed. Nancy Longnecker, Dusti Bongé: The Life of an Artist, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982. Falk, Peter Hastings, ed., Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975, Madison, CT: Soundview Press, 1999.
  • Falk, Peter Hastings, ed., Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975, Madison, Connecticut: Soundview Press, 1999.
  • Gruber, J. Richard and David Houston, The Art of the South 1890-2003: The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, London: Scala Publishers, 2004.
  • Hall, Lee, Betty Parsons, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991.
  • "Dusti Bonge." MPB video, 29:49. Accessed May 1, 2015.
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