The Beginnings of the Bonsack Gallery


Andrew Newman

2011: Tom Friedman retrospective in the Bonsack Gallery.

Sara Cao, A&E Editor

In a room tucked next to the Brauer entrance of JBS, the Bonsack Gallery boasts a magnificent creative space that greets Burroughs students each day as they walk through the front entrance. The Bonsack Gallery displays exhibitions that enhance our imaginations and force us to think critically, often raising questions such as ‘What does this piece mean?’ and ‘Why did the artist decide to do this?’ The gallery is a haven, an inventive space that deepens our understanding of the creativity that surrounds us.

The Bonsack Gallery has been displaying an array of diverse pieces since its beginnings in 1965, when it was initiated by a donation from Helen F. Bonsack in the memory of her son, JBS alum Arthur Bonsack. Before that, there existed a space called the “Little Gallery,” which was founded in 1955 by art department chair Fred Dreher. Over the next ten years, about 90 exhibits were featured in this gallery located in the school’s main classroom building.

Andrew Newman

However, when the Bonsack Gallery replaced the Little Gallery after Mrs. Bonsack’s donation and hours of effort by the staff, a new space that would reportedly “hold countless well-planned series of rotating exhibits each year” was born. Alongside Mrs. Bonsack’s donation, another key to the beginnings of the Bonsack was Fred Dreher, as he “brought vision and persistence which transformed what was formerly hallway and classroom space into a formal exhibition venue with spotlights, window drapery, exhibit cases, and walls durable for hanging artworks.” Mr. Dreher was dedicated to bringing a new way of discovering and thinking to the school, and his commitment paid off in the gallery. With his hard work, the Bonsack began a permanent art collection in 1971- the first piece added to the school’s collection being Soliloquy by Arthur Osver, which has since been relocated to the STAR Building. Since then, the JBS permanent collection has grown significantly, and artists often donate their artwork after exhibiting, ensuring that the Bonsack’s exhibitions have a lasting impact on the JBS community generation after generation.

James McGarrell; “Crossing Move” at MOMA. While this piece was not featured at JBS, it is included as a sample of McGarrell’s Work.

More than fifty years later, the Bonsack has held hundreds of exhibitions and continues to display works of art that “serve as a core tool for students and guests to explore contemporary artistic expression,” explains current JBS Art Teacher Ms. Donya Allison. These exhibitions have included world-famous artists James McGarrell, who exhibited in 1983 well before his rise to prominence, and Tom Friedman (‘83) who exhibited in 1992 and most recently in 2011. Currently, the Bonsack Gallery is maintained and organized by art teachers Ms. Allison and Ms. Hunt. Ms. Allison notes the uniqueness of the gallery, as “there are very few secondary schools in the country that have professional art galleries, and ours is front and center.” Furthermore, Ms. Allison appreciates the educational nature of the gallery and the connections students are able to form with exhibiting artists, as she explains that “It’s also a requirement of every exhibiting artist that they engage with our students during an artist’s talk. The artists generally install during the school day, so our students get to see and meet the artists as they install their work, and are also able to hear from them while they present. Exhibiting Bonsack Gallery artists are always impressed by our students’ questions and observations about their work.”

Looking to the future of the gallery, Ms. Allison hopes to include more representation in the exhibits by displaying works of artists of color that speak to people of different backgrounds and identities. She also hopes that there will be a greater turnout in the opening receptions after the pandemic. From the beginnings of the Bonsack in 1965 to now, the gallery has established a lasting impact at the forefront of the campus and continues to inspire, educate, and challenge members of the JBS community.