"Robert Clunie made his first trip to Lone Pine and the Sierra Nevada, Easter, 1928. He camped two blocks out of town on Lone Pine Creek. His first painting of the Sierra Nevada was of the Olivas Pack Station in Lone Pine. While on this trip, back at home in Santa Paula, the St. Francis Dam had collapsed. The Clunie home, built on high ground, was spared destruction by the floodwaters." --Richard Coons, Robert Clunie, Plein-Air Painter of the Sierra
Robert Clunie was born June 29, 1895 in Renfrewshire, Scotland. He began painting outdoors in his native Scotland at the age of 13 and was accepted to the Royal Scottish Academy. However, he cancelled his enrollment choosing instead to go to America.
In 1911, he and his older brother William boarded the S.S. California for New York. Upon their arrival to the United States, they joined relatives in Saginaw, Michigan. In January 1918, wanting to escape the dark cold Michigan winters, Clunie boarded a train to Pasadena, California. It was on this return train trip back to Saginaw that he first saw, and fell in love with, the Sierra Nevada, taking the northern route over Donner Pass from San Francisco.
By the end of 1918, he and his older brother drove to California. Arriving in Hollywood, he worked briefly at MGM painting scenics for the film "The Red Lantern". When the work ended he followed friends, to the paint department of the American Beet Sugar Company in Oxnard.
At a Friday evening dance in the City of Ventura he met his future wife, Myrtle Ireland of Santa Paula, California. They were married in 1919 and bought a house in Santa Paula where Clunie painted the ranches, and rolling terrain of the Ojai Valley, Santa Paula and Ventura. The Clunies became friends with other local artists, Cornelis and Jessie Arms Botke.
Robert Clunie made his first trip to Lone Pine and the Sierra Nevada, Easter, 1928. He camped two blocks out of town on Lone Pine Creek. His first painting of the Sierra Nevada was of the Olivas Pack Station in Lone Pine. While on this trip, back at home in Santa Paula, the St. Francis Dam had collapsed. The Clunie home, built on high ground, was spared destruction by the floodwaters.
In the summer of 1929, Clunie returned to the Owens Valley and spent eight weeks painting in the upper reaches of Big Pine Canyon. A local packer suggested a scenic knoll between Fourth and Fifth Lakes. Clunie painted profusely, inspired by the magnificent landscape. Guests from upper Glacier Lodge stopped by his camp and were soon buying paintings from his easel. He sold all of his paintings and took orders for more.
For the next thirty years or more, Clunie made his annual painting trips to upper Big Pine Canyon. He was visited by other painters including Edgar Payne who preferred the comfort of Upper Glacier Lodge to camping out on the hard ground.
In 1945, Clunie bought a small parcel of land in Bishop from a local rancher who said "I don't know what you are going to do with that swamp land." By 1948, the Clunie family moved into their new residence and art studio on the north fork of Bishop Creek (Coons Gallery) where they lived until they died in the 1980s. Myrtle died in 1981. Clunie continued painting until his death in 1984. He and Myrtle are buried in Santa Paula next to her parents.
Ventura County Museum of History & Art Gardena High School Art Collection
California Art Club, Painters and Sculptors Club, Academy of Western Painters
Who's Who in California 1942, Artists of the American West, Southern California Artists, Who's Who in American Art 1936-1962, California Arts & Architecture Society. Source: Robert Clunie Plein-Air Painter of the Sierra by Richard Coons, 1998 Artists in California, 1786-1940, Edan Milton Hughes, 1989 Davenport's Art Reference: The Gold Edition, Davenport, Ray, 2005 Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975, Falk, Peter Hastings, 1999 Artists of the American West: A Biographical Dictionary (3 volumes), Dawdy, Doris, 1985 The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, Samuels, Peggy and Harold, 1976 Index of Artists: International-Biographical, Two Volumes: Includes 1940 Index, Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge