The Donald Art Company Collection: Own A Piece of History
as related by Vivien Bonnist Cord
Vivien Bonnist Cord, Randolph Bonnist and Claudia Bonnist, inherited the Donald Art Company Collection from their father, Donald Bonnist, upon his retirement. The 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.
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 worldwide.
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 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. Our parents worked together to pack picture orders using their bed as a table. In the mid-1940s when I was 4 we moved to Larchmont, NY and our father bought a building on Spencer Place in Mamaroneck, NY, 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 (Rye Brook), NY, 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 ever-growing 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 to the seller that there can only be one original. DAC and Litho-Craft of New England also developed techniques for printing on cotton, vinyl and a type of velvet material, unique to the offset lithography field. For the last 17 years, Randolph Bonnist worked at DAC, ultimately becoming the President.
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, NY), Rico Tomaso, Bennett Bradbury, Henk Bos, Walter Brightwell, Guy Coheleach, Bouvier De Cachard, Peter Hayward, 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 a generous offer to buy the company, but Serine convinced Donald that the time wasn’t right. In 1984, however, suffering from heart failure, he was ready to retire. Donald Bonnist passed away in 1986 at his home in Mamaroneck, NY, at the age of 78.
Our father left a legacy and such a wonderful gift. After I retired from running consumer shows, I needed to be busy and managing the Donald Art Company Collection was meant to be. 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. If only our father had lived to see his prints selling on eBay and Etsy.
We receive heartfelt testimonials from people who can’t imagine that they now own the original of the print they grew up with. Please be sure to read them.
The company continued to change hands until its physical presence ceased to exist.
Additionally offered are affordable antiques and collectables from the private collections of Vivien Bonnist Cord and Edward McClure.