Dunlap documents Benton City past with pens and paintbrushes

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It was 1947 when Robert Dunlap and his wife loaded all their worldly possessions into the rumble seat of a 1937 Ford convertible and headed to Tri-Cities from St. Paul, Minn. He was 24 years old.

I never needed a fancy studio to work in because I can paint anywhere.

Robert Dunlap

He worked as a draftsman at Hanford for many years before retiring from Rockwell in 1982 to pursue a graphic design business.

Today, at age 93, Dunlap is still very much connected to his artistic nature.

“I have been drawing since I was just a little kid, and eventually took up painting, too, so I guess art just came naturally to me,” Dunlap said. “I never really had anything in particular in mind when I created something.”

But then he realized how much historical significance could be captured in art.

“Since I have lived in Benton City for many years, I have many paintings and drawings about the city’s history,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap has shown his work at the Battelle Theater, county fairs and schools, but his first official exhibition will be this month at The Reach interpretive center at the west end of Columbia Park. The show includes his selection of paintings about the history of Benton City.

Robert Dunlap's painting of Benton City.
Robert Dunlap’s painting of downtown Benton City is part of a collection of art work being featured at his exhibition, which starts this month at The Reach, at the west end of Columbia Park.

The show opened Feb. 26 and continues through April 17. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and youth. Kids age 5 and younger are free.

“This really is a fantastic collection of beautiful work, and the history Bob weaves into these paintings is fabulous,” said Stephanie Button, curator of programs and education at The Reach.

As for Dunlap, he’s honored to have been asked to show his historical work, though he still considers himself a student at his craft. But there’s nothing amateur about his creations. Visitors to the show will get a glimpse of Benton City’s past, including a fabulous painting of the city’s old train station, which was demolished many years ago, Dunlap said.

“It’s truly a shame that train station couldn’t have been saved,” he said. “It used to be just off main street when you come into town.”

There are also paintings of the town’s renowned Palm Tavern, which still stands and draws a dedicated clientele today. Other paintings include the bridge that crosses the Yakima River and other familiar scenes Benton City.

“I never needed a fancy studio to work in because I can paint anywhere,” Dunlap said.

Much of his inspiration comes from the backyard of his home, which sits on a bluff overlooking several grape vineyards and wineries. He can’t really explain where his artistic mojo comes from because he was never much interested in sitting outside with an easel to create his landscape paintings, he said. Instead, he prefers to photograph scenes that appeal to him then paint them onto a canvas.

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Dori O'Neal

Dori O'Neal

Dori O’Neal is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 30 years writing about arts, entertainment and interesting people in the Mid-Columbia.

View all posts by Dori O'Neal