Peru Community Schools Art Gallery: The G. David Thompson Collection

Peru Community Schools Art Gallery: The G. David Thompson Collection

By Frances J. Folsom
No one would expect an art collection worth millions to be housed in a high school in a small Midwest town. Yet, that’s exactly what you’ll see at Peru (Indiana) High School. On April 20th, the school will open a permanent art gallery to exhibit 138 pieces of art, including ancient Asian pottery, lithographs, sketches, and paintings by such artists as Salvador Dalí, William Merritt Chase, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso.

Steel magnate G. David Thompson, known as G. David, graduated from Peru High School and donated the art in memory of the teacher he credited with turning his life around. In 1912, G. David was a poor student who often hooked school, then was befriended by John Whittenberger a new teacher at the high school.

Circus Performance, oil by Milton Avery— Today G. David Thompson's art collection would be worth upwards of $350 million.

G. David went on to attend Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. Afterwards he worked for New York investment firms. In his business dealings, he became the owner and CEO of four Pittsburgh steel companies.

Sujet Mythologuique signed lithograph by George Braque—In 1928, G. David purchased his first important piece of art—a Paul Klee. By 1945, he owned four steel companies in Pittsburgh.

The self-made millionaire collected world class contemporary art as aggressively as he conducted business. And, for 25 years, from 1938 until his death in 1963, along with the Dalí, Picasso, and Chase pieces he sent works by Milton Avery, Ernest Lawson of the Ashcan School of Artists and Maurice Prendergast to Peru High School in memory of Whittenberger, his favorite teacher.

The Burial oil by Jorge Camacho—G. David's primary interest was abstract art. He also had a keen eye for and collected Americana, folk art, and Oriental porcelain.

He donated art that he thought would interest teachers and students. Fifty-four pieces of priceless Asian pottery dating from 215 B.C. were housed in a closet when they weren’t being used as teaching tools in ceramics classes. Some paintings were hung around the school, but as the collection grew, more objects went into storage.

Mist Off Shore oil by William Merritt Chase—G. David's art collection was so famous, when Mist Off Shore and 343 other works were shown in Dusseldorf Germany in 1961, it made headlines in Time magazine.

With the help of Connie Cutler of the Peru Community Schools Arts Alive! Program and the school board, which budgeted $250,000, the school’s theater department’s technical workshop became the Peru Community Schools Art Gallery. And, for the first time in 75 years, the G. David Thompson collection is being shown in its entirety.

Paysage oil by Henri Edmond Cross—In 1959, G. David offered his mansion and his entire collection, including all his works by Cross, Miró, and Giacometti to the city of Pittsburgh. The city rejected his offer. Too bad, it was their loss.

"There is nothing snobbish about art," G. David Thompson said, "Art is what appeals to a person. It belongs to everyone who can enjoy it..familiarity is the best way to develop appreciate for beautiful things."

La Fille au Reflect D'Homme oil by Jean Helion— This oil by noted French abstract artist Jean Helion is the cover image for the new Peru Community Schools Art Gallery.

Bowl of Fruit oil by Arthur Beecher Carles—When it came to showing his art collection at museums, G. David was adament on how his art would be displayed. For the ehibition at the Guggenheim Museum in the 1960's, he wrote the catalog introdution himself; "Taste and experience play an important role. During the years I classified art as abstract or realistic and by schools such as DaDa or Surrealist. Today I recognize but two kinds....good art and bad art."


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