Dudley Huppler began making art in his mid-twenties and didn't stop until he died. Working in one of the most unforgiving mediums, ink and paper, Dudley spent his days dotting meticulously with a black Parker 51 ink pen. He was positioned for fame in the 1950s, but for some reason that promise was never achieved—and over time, Dudley appears to have gradually fallen through the cracks of an art world he seemed to have filled.
Dudley was born to humble beginnings on August 6, 1917 in rural Muscoda, Wisconsin. Early in his life, he set his sights on higher education as the way out of his tiny Midwest town. Dudley entered the University of Wisconsin in Madison to pursue studies in English and art history, achieving both BA and MA degrees in 1939. Through the university, he met a group of artists with whom he found the encouragement to develop the artistic talent that would shape the rest of his life.
While working towards his PhD and teaching in the English Department at UW, Dudley began to draw and paint. His earliest signed drawings (dated September 1943) were biomorphic characters he sent to friends in letters and postcards. In 1947, he discovered pointillism—and up until the late 1970s, Dudley’s drawings are almost completely comprised of tiny dots.
Over the next few years, he began to exhibit work and win awards while continuing to teach English. More exhibitions in the Midwest followed in the post-war years, some held jointly with friends and some solo. Dudley first visited New York City in 1950 and became involved in the art world there—including exhibitions, features in Vogue and Flair magazines, selling postcards in Serendipity, and decorating department store windows. The relationships he formed in New York saw him returning to the city over the next decade.
Several sojourns in Italy and other parts of Europe (most notably in 1951, 1953 and 1958) proved pivotal to his body of artwork, and a Yaddo Residency grant in 1955 brought him in contact with more influential artists. He took pride in being self-taught as an artist, yet the art lessons given by friends became some of his most prized moments.
Although he appeared to be poised for fame as an artist, by the 1960s he was earning his living as an English professor. Dudley moved west to be closer to his sister and family and teach English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He began teaching full time at University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh in 1966, traveling back and forth by Greyhound bus to spend summers in Boulder.
A child of the great depression, Dudley was incredibly frugal. Every morning in Boulder, he would ride his bike downtown in search of free day-old doughnuts and coffee from banks. Extra doughnuts were taken home and broken down into crumbs to be repurposed into a cake. Dudley would wear down colored pencils to small stubs barely big enough to hold, and many of his drawings were done on the back of old advertisements from local companies that he would cut down to size. The walls of his Boulder home were covered with antiques and artwork from his friends. A shoe painting he received from his friend Andy Warhol leaned against a shelf above his tub, and the wooden carved eagle he drew for an ad in the April 1950 issue of Vogue hung on an upstairs wall.
Although a talented writer with two published books to his name, Dudley’s true passion remained his art throughout his life. He continued to draw daily, and his work was still regularly exhibited in his later years (largely in the Midwest). He retired from teaching in 1985 and lived in his small Victorian home in Boulder until his death in 1988. In the end, it’s unclear why Dudley Huppler never achieved the fame and publicity for which he seemed destined. Some say his piercing personality alienated those who might have helped him reach his full potential. Others say it simply wasn’t his time.
All of the artwork featured here is taken from a collection of Huppler’s lifework.
To learn more you may purchase the book titled, Dudley Huppler Drawings by Robert Cozzolino.