Dunbar: Not retiring, transitioning

by marlys good

Thirty-two years ago Karyne Dunbar packed up all her possessions and her horse and with her pre-teen sons, left Cripple Creek, Colo., where she had been operating a campground and livery stable, and headed north to Wyoming  and her new position as the art instructor for Big Horn County School District No. 3.

She recalls “rolling into Shell (with a flat tire) and discovering there was no service of any kind for miles. A glance at the little shack of a post office (in 1981) showed us the painted cow skull above the door had lost a letter. It read “-hell Wyo. Good start,” she laughed.

With the help Fran Paton Childers, who was teaching physical education for the district, the young family found temporary housing in a cabin at the Iowa State Geology Camp and lived there until December, when a rental opened in Shell.

The cabin had no heat or running water but “my boys and I actually loved it. It was wild and solitary and we fished every day.”

The art department was housed in the old high school but was being moved into the new middle school. A good move, Dunbar said, “since an electrical fire from the kiln had burned a big hole in the wall of the old art room.”

She recalls her first years in the district were “peppered with students in western wear, with a yes ma’am, no ma’am approach to our conversations. A boy removing a cowboy hat in order to speak to me today would almost be shocking,” she said.

While in Greybull for her interview, Karyne met the former art teacher who was “packing her things in a hurried way and cussing the town and the school. I was intrigued. What could I accomplish here?” she wondered.

What hasn’t she accomplished, is the better question. Through the ensuing years the art department has had a great working relationship with the 3-M company (duct tape art); partners with the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and the McCracken Research Library, Wyo-Ben has funded a partnering experience for the department with the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, and Northwest College recruits GHS art students “with high praise for their performance there.” The community has opened its arms to the Art in the Dark shows and the popularity of the shows, Dunbar believes, “is the great ambiance of the Historical Greybull Hotel opened to us by Myles Foley.”

In her 32 years with the district Dunbar has seen many deserving students win scholarships and awards, and some continue on in art-related fields.

In addition to her teaching duties, Dunbar is an accomplished artist. She is also the owner and guiding light of the Art Shelter gallery east of Shell where two or three times each summer, artists from multiple disciplines and their works are showcased at a public show and reception.

Dunbar said, “My studio calls me to give more attention to my own artistic creations. Perhaps the Art Shelter’s role will be flexing a bit. I love to travel, there are friends I haven’t seen in years, I have a great-granddaughter and great-grandson I would like to know better; there are three acres at home to enjoy. What will I do next? The answer is I hope to have enough time to do all that I want to do.”

Dunbar said, “All kinds of good things happened for me here. I owe my home in Shell and most of my material possessions to Big Horn County School District No. 3.” An added bonus is both of her sons decided to make their homes in this area.

Don’t ask Karyne about retiring. She’ll tell you in a flash that she’s “just getting to graduate. I will be continuing with my work of creating and showing my own work. So I am no retiring — just transitioning.”