Early Personal Life
Dusti Bongé, née Eunice Lyle Swetman, (1903-1993) was the youngest of three children born to a prominent Biloxi, Mississippi, banking family.
Attracted to the arts as a youngster, she wrote, produced, directed and acted in plays starring other neighborhood children on the wide gallery of the family’s Beachfront home.
Her interest in theater continued into adulthood, and after graduation from Blue Mountain College in North Mississippi, she went to Chicago where she studied acting and played bit parts on the stage. There, she acquired the nickname, Dusti, because, she said, friends teased her about constantly washing her dusty face when she’d return home through the bustling, dirty streets of the growing city. With an adjusted spelling, the name stuck.
In Chicago, Dusti met and fell in love with Arch Bongé, a Nebraska “cowboy artist,” who was taking classes at the Art Institute. When she moved to New York to further her acting, Arch soon followed and accepted a job as doorman at the theater where Dusti was performing.
Dusti also showed promise as a painter, which pleased Arch, and he encouraged her to work with him.
They married in 1928. In November 1929, their only child, Lyle, was born in Biloxi. The couple went back to New York but soon decided they preferred to rear their son in Mississippi so they returned to Biloxi, bought a house and Arch built a studio for himself in the backyard. He and Dusti painted there together until he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1936. After Arch’s death, Dusti sought solace in the studio where they’d worked together, and began to paint seriously.
In the video, “Dusti Bongé, the Life of an Artist,” Dusti tells the story of her entry into the art world. Although in later years, she had an active social life, dated and had numerous proposals, Dusti never remarried.
Arch, she said, was a tough act to follow.