Born in 1903 in Biloxi, Mississippi, Dusti Bongé (nee Eunice Lyle Swetman) was the youngest of three children in a family that established The Peoples Bank. At age 19, after graduating from Mississippi's Blue Mountain College, she moved to Chicago to study acting, and in the 1920s, appeared on stage and in silent films in Chicago and New York.Read More
In 1928, she married artist Archie Bongé (1901–1936), a self-proclaimed 'Cowboy Painter,' who was schooled at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), and the noted Art Students League of New York. It was Archie who encouraged her natural abilities as an artist, after she once drew him a 'picture' to make up for an argument. Their son Lyle was born a year later, in 1929, and the family moved to Biloxi in 1934 to afford Archie greater opportunity to focus on his art. Archie built a studio in their backyard. But, in 1936 he succumbed to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), leaving Dusti to fend for herself as a single mother.
While raising Lyle and grieving for Archie, Dusti turned to art, dedicating the next 50 years to her practice. Bongé initially exhibited in New Orleans and Biloxi. In 1939, her work was shown for the first time in New York at the Contemporary Arts Gallery. A few years later, in 1945, she was included in a group show at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery, which led to her meeting Betty Parsons. Bongé received increasing recognition once she joined the roster of the renowned Betty Parsons Gallery. In 1956, Bongé received her first solo exhibition at Parsons's gallery, placing her in a select group of artists that included Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Theodoros Stamos, Lee Krasner, Hedda Sterne, and Clyfford Still.
Bongé continued to show with Betty Parsons until 1975, maintaining a strong voice in the New York art scene for more than three decades. Bongé and Parsons also often travelled together and remained close friends until Parsons's death in 1982. And, although Dusti continuously traveled between the two cultural worlds of New York and the Gulf Coast throughout her career, her home base would always remain Biloxi, where she could pursue her work independently, and where she continued to produce new work until two years before her death in 1993.
Text courtesy Hollis Taggart.