Born Eunice Lyle Swetman, Dusti Bongé was an artist best known for her intuitive abstract paintings, which first came to public attention in a solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York City in 1956. Her work went through several stylistic evolutions, beginning with local scenes and moving through abstract surrealism, abstract expressionism, and ultimately delicate abstract paintings on small joss paper she bought at a Vietnamese market.
A native of Biloxi, Swetman was first interested in the theater. After graduating from Blue Mountain College, she moved north to study drama at the Lyceum in Chicago. She enjoyed limited success on the stage there, with a traveling company, and then later in New York. She took Dusti as her stage name and retained it for the rest of her life. She met her future husband, Archie Bongé, in Chicago. They married in Biloxi in 1926 and settled in New York City. Bongé, a native of Nebraska, had attended the University of Nebraska and the Pennsylvania Academy (with Mississippi artist Walter Anderson) and was receiving critical acclaim for his realistic paintings and illustrations. Their son, Lyle, was born in 1929, and the family moved to Mississippi six years later, thinking that the rural South would be a better place for him to grow up and would provide Archie with more time to paint. However, Archie Bongé died in 1936.
He had encouraged Dusti’s artwork and invited her to accompany him on his frequent excursions to draw and paint local scenes, especially the charming vernacular buildings and the waterfront that characterized Biloxi before it was ravaged by Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After Archie’s death Dusti found solace in his studio and began painting and drawing seriously. Her early work owes much to her husband’s local scenes and experimentation with modernist geometry and color. She continued to produce brightly colored Cubist-inspired depictions of local scenes, and after a period of surrealist experimentation from 1945 to 1955, she embraced the approach of color-field and gesture painting that dominated American art of the period. Her association with the Betty Parsons Gallery lasted from 1956 to 1972. Her work has been widely exhibited, with significant collections at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans; Alabama’s Mobile Museum of Art; the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Mississippi; and the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.
Her work, along with that of Archie and photographs by Lyle, who trained at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, has been preserved and promoted by the Dusti Bongé Foundation in Biloxi since 1995.
- Patti Carr Black, American Masters of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: George Ohr, Dusti Bongé, Walter Anderson, and Richmond Barthe (2008)
- Dusti Bongé Art Foundation website, http://www.dustibonge.org