David West’s legacy lives on in his art.
As one of the first artists to set up a studio inside one of the vacant rooms in the Commerce Building many years ago, David was pivotal in the way countless Siouxland artists create and display their art.
Ten years after his death, his impact continues to be felt thanks to his wife Bonnie, who still organizes, sells and exhibits David's stockpiles of artwork.
Bonnie houses her late husband’s work inside a small studio in the Commerce Building, which previously served as his supply area. His former studio space is now occupied by Siouxland artist and friend Pauline Sensenig. Bonnie keeps the studio tidy and looks after his art. Paintings hang on or lean against walls or are stored in large cubbyholes.
Every year, the Commerce Connection Artists host the Holiday Open House, a free event for the public to view the latest work by numerous Siouxland artists. For this particular event, Bonnie opens her husband’s studio for guests to explore. She said more than 200 pieces are stored in the small fourth-floor room.
David’s work is varied in size, color and style. Bonnie said he wasn’t the type of artist to repeat himself. David taught himself different techniques and styles over the years. He didn’t find a niche and paint it over and over again. However, in the early 1980s, Bonnie said her husband became increasingly interested in landscapes, which would later become his forte.
This Friday and Saturday (Nov. 18 & 19) may be the last time visitors will get a chance to see David’s artwork inside his studio. Bonnie plans to move away from Sioux City and live in Seattle where her son lives.
“I think within 12 months I’ll probably close this down and take myself wherever it seems likely that I’m gonna go,” said Bonnie. “I don’t want [David’s art] to be sold in a lot to somebody who doesn’t give a damn. I want it to go to people who like it.”
Bonnie cares deeply about her husband’s work. And although she might not like a few paintings here and there (most of her favorites are already stored away or displayed at her home), she wants the pieces to go to people who appreciate the art.
Bonnie, who grew up in New York City, watched David pursue his passion ever since the two met in Chicago. David grew up in a suburb of Chicago and attended the Art Institute of Chicago. After leaving school, David decided to live the “starving artist” lifestyle while Bonnie became the breadwinner of the family.
But the lifestyle became all too real, especially when the couple started having children and needed a stable income. That’s when they discovered Sioux City.
David applied for a job at the Sioux City Art Center and became an assistant director in 1965. The Art Center, a very small organization at the time, promoted David to director the same year, a position he held until 1972. Bonnie said he was instrumental in the Art Center’s move to its current location.
During their stay in Sioux City, David went through numerous downtown art studios. He was free to paint any time he liked.
“He spent a lot of time alone painting,” said Bonnie. “He always produced.”
David even produced work at his studio after being diagnosed with cancer in June 2006. “He came down to the studio every day until about three weeks before he died,” Bonnie added. “It was his soul home.”
At the Holiday Open House, guests can get a sense of the kind of artist David was though his art and his studio. After 10 years of keeping David’s studio open for Commerce Connection events, Bonnie is slightly relieved.
“I don’t think I want to be in charge -- I want my kids to take charge,” she said with a laugh. “This is the last year. These paintings are very meaningful to me. I can tell you where pretty much most of them came from. They catch the emotion of the place. I thought he was extremely good at doing that. They’re very personal. They’re very real.”
In addition to David’s paintings, Bonnie is pleased with the art community that has formed after David’s early years as an artist in Sioux City.
“We do have a much more vibrant art community now,” she said. “I like the idea that artists are getting a chance to do what they think is important and they’re getting space to do it in. I am very pleased. And I have to give my husband credit because he was the pioneer in that.”