BY PIA HAAS AS TOLD BY VIVIEN BONNIST CORD
Vivien Bonnist Cord, a long time Armonk resident, along with her siblings, Randolph Bonnist of Norwalk, CT and Claudia Bonnist of Jackson, WY, inherited the Donald Art Company Collection from their father, Donald Bonnist, upon his retirement.
The collection of paintings are the originals from which The Donald Art Company made reproductions that were sold in all major department stores between 1940-1984.
Chances are you grew up with one on your wall.
In what follows, Vivien takes us behind the scenes of her family’s historic collection:
Donald Bonnist started The Donald Art Company from meager beginnings, and it became the largest fine art publishing business in the world in its time. I recall our father as being soft spoken, hating conflicts (especially good when I misbehaved!), and a “workaholic” who spent many years as the proverbial ‘traveling salesman’ as he believed in making personal contact with artists, suppliers, and distributors world-wide, which took him away from home way too often.
Before there was the Donald Art Company (DAC) there was M. B. & Z. Starting in 1924 Donald and his father, Maurits Bonnist, worked together to develop their art publishing business, M. Bonnist & Zonen in Amsterdam, Holland. One of their specialties was a series of movie star photo postcards for which they had the exclusive rights, and which are still sought after by collectors. Maurits Bonnist died young of a heart attack and in order to support his mother and siblings, Donald had to drop out of high school to run the business.
In 1939, Donald and Serine van Embden (an artist in her own right) came to America on their honeymoon and were unable to return to their homeland due to the escalation of WWII. This twist of fate saved their lives, as most of their family members were murdered by the Nazis.
In America, a new company was born in our parents small rented apartment in Forest Hills, NY. They worked together to pack picture orders using their bed as a table. In the mid 1940s when I was four, we moved to Larchmont and our father bought a building on Spencer Place in Mamaroneck as his first formal headquarters.
The business continued to grow and after about 20 years, when the Mamaroneck building was outgrown, our father moved DAC to Port Chester where he built the Donald Art Plaza in 1965. A 70,000 square foot building, it housed offices, warehouse space and “Gallery 90” where The Donald Art Company Collection could finally be displayed. There was also a sales office in NYC and in Los Angeles, CA. DAC developed initially as a publisher of paper art reproduction by lithography for the picture framing industry but in 1960 Donald partnered with Gus Montovano of Litho-Craft of New England to develop a technique for printing on artist canvas, textured to feel like brush strokes.
Our father could never have imagined the confusion this would create, distinguishing a canvas reproduction from an original. When I see a listing on eBay for an original matching one in our collection, I am moved to write the seller that there can only be one original. The company also developed techniques for printing on cotton, vinyl and a type of velvet material, unique to the offset lithography field.
Many internationally recognized, award-winning artists became closely associated with DAC.
Some of the most popular included Robert W. Wood (known for his Autumn scenes), Anton Pieck, whose illustrations of magical scenes capture a view of traditional Dutch city life, Florence Kroger (whom as children we often visited for tea in Nyack), Rico Tomaso, Bennett Bradbury, Henk Bos, Walter Brightwell, Guy Coheleach, Bouvier De Cachard, Peter Haywood, Jack Laycox, Maurice Legendre, and “Big Eye” style painters such as Margaret Keane and George Buckett. August Albo painted the iconic Free As The Wind, which I titled when I was 13. DAC also had the rights to reproduce old masters such as Rembrandt and van Gogh.
The company made artwork for premiums, promotions and incentives and they offered a variety of art-related products including pictures for Jigsaw puzzles. Impress Graphics was a division of DAC as was Design-R-Crafts in Fort Worth, TX, manufacturing craft kits. In 1970 CBS Broadcasting made an offer to buy the company but Serine convinced Donald that the time wasn’t right. In 1984; however, suffering with heart failure, he was ready to retire. Donald Bonnist passed away in 1986 at his home in Mamaroneck at the age of 78.
Our father left a legacy and such a wonderful gift.
With every painting I touch I feel my father, while the greatest reward comes from putting an original painting in the hands of a grateful person who has fallen in love with the copy.
We receive heart-felt testimonials from people who can’t imagine that they now own the original of the print they grew up with.
The company continued to change hands until its physical presence ceased to exist. For more information and to view the collection and read testimonials, please visit Donald-Art.com. If you are local, we would love to meet you and hand deliver your purchase.