FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - A small Indiana high school is the proud owner of more than 200 pieces of art. The work was donated to Peru High School by a man who graduated from the Miami County high school in 1913.
More than 50 pieces of the "Hidden Treasures: The John Whittenberger Collection of G. David Thompson at Peru High School" are on display until February 24 at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.
"Unbelievable that a museum-quality exhibit like this, and many more things like this, belong to a high school," said Charles Shepard, the executive director of the museum.
Thompson was said to have been a troublemaker in school, but became interested in art after a teacher, Whittenberger, inspired him to turn his life around. Thompson would go to become a businessman in Pittsburgh and began his own investment banking company. By 1945, he was the leader of four steel companies.
That's when, according to Shepard, Thompson began purchasing art. He would see an artist he would like, and buy, at times, 20 pieces of work. At least one purchase was for 90 pieces of work. However, his negotiations would bother some potential sellers.
"A lot of people wouldn't work with him," Shepard said. "He got mad about that. And he said, you know what, if they don't want to work with me, I'm going to send some back to Peru High School, because I liked my teachers there. I liked going to school there. So hence, that's how mysterious collection came to be formed."
Thompson's collection includes work by Picasso, Klee, Dani, Braque, Monet, Matisse, and many other famous paintings created around World War II.
Shepard said many of the paintings on display can't be found anywhere else and would be impressive in any major art museum.
"We all fall prey to the idea that the only place you would get something like this is in New York or Boston or San Francisco," Shepard said. "Great collections are everywhere. They're not geographically bound. It is a bit of a surprise to find them in a high school but still we celebrate the fact that Indiana has a great collection, and Peru High School is its home."
The museum offers lectures where visitors can learn more about paintings in the collection. Shepard said groups can also request a private viewing to learn more.
Peru High School is building a gallery on its campus to put the collection on display permanently, but Shepard hopes other pieces of the collection will make a visit to the museum some time in the future.
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