‘Faces of Vassar’ portraits turn spotlight to staff members

Bruce Bundock’s portraits—which include a self-portrait as featured above—depict and honor Vassar staff members, whose hard work and dedication to the school may or may not go unnoticed. Photo By: Vassar College
Bruce Bundock’s portraits—which include a self-portrait as featured above—depict and honor Vassar staff members, whose hard work and dedication to the school may or may not go unnoticed. Photo By: Vassar College
Bruce Bundock’s portraits—which include a self-portrait as featured above—depict and honor
Vassar staff members, whose hard work and dedication to the school may or may not go unnoticed. Photo By: Vassar College

Twenty-two portraits of Vassar staff members will greet the walls of the Palmer Gallery and the Vassar Community on Thursday, Feb. 20. The exhibition, “Faces of Vassar: An Appreciation,” showcases a yearlong body of work by painter and Vassar staff member Bruce Bundock. Each piece depicts a staff member of Vassar College, their positions ranging from electrician to custodian to locksmith—the backbones of the college.

After showing a series of landscapes at the Palmer Gallery in 2002, Bundock decided to paint a different subject matter. “I decided that I wanted to switch off from landscape for a while and work with the figure. I thought about what sort of subject it should be. Then it dawned on me that I had the answer right under my nose, and it happened to be the people that I worked with every day,” said Bundock.

Bundock has been a member of the staff at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center for 20 years as the museum preparator. His job entails the integration of various artistic, carpentry, engineering and design skills, which ultimately are synthesized to hang, arrange and care for the art collection. Through his involvement on the Vassar campus, Bundock has met many staff members.

“I do not work directly with them, but they are the people who come into the art center, [who] work on projects and [who] I see everyday; the custodians, the electricians or an extra set of hands for certain projects. They are the people that are there, so over the years you get to know them,” said Bundock. “So I thought, why don’t I showcase them, because like me, they work behind the scenes more or less. People sometimes wonder how this comes together; well, the people on the periphery are the ones that make it come together.”

The exhibition of 11×14 portraits was created over the course of a year and the paintings are done entirely in acrylic paint. These profiles are hung with individual spotlights that cast halos of light on each image, emphasizing each subject’s personality.

The project began with the artist asking each figure to be painted, and once they agreed, he photographed them while on campus. “I would have preferred working from life, but it would have been a lot of hours, and since I have the day job, I couldn’t spend it,” said Bundock. “So I had to work from photographic reference, but I took it myself. Since I knew these people, I had a sense of their personality in my mind from our daily interaction. Sometimes I eat lunch with these people. So that helped and I think I got a little of that in the show.”

Holding a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and Silvermine College of Art, Bundock has an artistic background in a variety of fields, including professional framing. “When I got out of Maryland Institute, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to graduate school right away,” said Bundock. “I wanted to concentrate on developing my skills as an artist, which I have over the years in leaps and bounds. So I decided to wait on going after a masters…” he said. He continued, “I have been here since 1994 and I love my day job. It is the perfect marriage between my background as a painter and the work that I do here.”

To the artist, this exhibition is a means of highlighting a group of staff members that are not regularly a focus on campus. He explained, “These people, in a way, are on the sidebands of people’s attention and this is a way of drawing a tighter focus on these people by way of introduction…People might see them, but they don’t know what their connection is and this is a way of connecting them.”

Of these is Keith Light, HVCAR Mechanic at Buildings and Grounds. “I think I’ve been told by management that, ‘You get your paycheck every two weeks and that’s enough.’ It’s nice to get a little recognition. I think this show kind of does that,” said Light.

He continued to say that he thinks the project establishes a greater sense of community within Vassar and elucidates the breadth of work offices like Building and Grounds do. ”People especially, in Buildings and Grounds, aren’t recognized enough for the work they do. It’s largely physical labor, but there are also a lot of mental aspects—we trouble shoot projects and coming up with solutions,” he said. To this end, accompanying the portraits is a plaque describing each figure’s position on campus. Said Bundock, “All of us here are involved in this idea of stewardship. Why we work here: we take care of things, we take care of the art, we take care of the physical buildings, we maintain the college over the course of the years, the decades and so forth. This exhibition highlights these individuals at this particular time doing this particular work.”

Light expressed his hopes for the exhibit: “Maybe [it] will give the Vassar community a better sense of who we are. I’m thinking that it would at least make the faculty, staff and students aware of who it is that keeps them warm and their buildings lit and keeps the college doors open. Students can see who it is that takes care of the spaces that we enjoy on campus and who works to facilitate their education.”

The exhibition opens Thursday, Feb. 20 with an artist’s reception from 5 to 7 p.m. It will be on display until March 13.

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