During assembly on Friday, October 4, Andy Abbott and JBS Alumni Association president Seema Mukhi Dahlheimer '98 presented the annual alumni awards to Vicki Liebson Goldberg '54 and William Shearburn '79.
Goldberg received the Outstanding Alum Award for her lifelong work in photography criticism. She has written for Vanity Fair and American Photography, has published several books and written the texts for more than 30 photographic monographs. She is a recipient of the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Her latest book, Bruce Davidson: An Illustrated Biography, was published in 2016. She has taught courses at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York City, the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City and the Rhode Island School of Design. She lectures internationally and writes about photography for The New York Times. Her other books include The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives; Light Matters (a selection of her essays); and The White House: The President's Home in Photographs and History. As Dahlheimer said, "Photography has the power to change the world, and Vicki has managed to capture its dire importance in her work. ... Journalists like Vicki make us question, reconsider and come to a new understanding of our world. She reveals truth in her work — not just fact, but truth."
In accepting the award, Goldberg looked back on her career, which was a career by chance, not design. But first she shared that in the spring of her senior year, she and other students watched part of the Army-McCarthy hearings (which sifted through conflicting accusations between the U.S. Army and then-Senator Joseph McCarthy). As TV was becoming the prominent conveyor of news, Burroughs, she said, was trying to make kids informed citizens.
Goldberg then talked about her education and early career — neither of which were focused on photography or photography criticism. While earning a graduate degree, she began to write to earn some money. She chose wide-ranging topics, which included an article on collecting photography, just as photography was beginning to be considered an art. The response to her writing and insights was very positive ... and so she continued. She wrote for American Photographer for 13 years (beginning with its inaugural issue) and The New York Times for 12 years.
Goldberg showed an image of Abraham Lincoln taken by Mathew Brady on the same day Lincoln spoke to a large Republican audience at Cooper Union (New York). Both the image and speech were widely distributed, and Lincoln is reported to have said: “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me President.” A rather large example of the power of photography!
Goldberg's "life plans" developed organically. She encouraged students to not be afraid to walk through doors.
Shearburn received the Distinguished Service Award for his far-reaching impact on Burroughs. Abbott said Shearburn "has an eye for beauty, and has used that gift to advance the fine arts across the country, in St. Louis, and right here at Burroughs." In 2007, Shearburn was part of a small group that created the JBS Fine Arts Advisory Committee, which he continues to co-chair with current parent Dwyer Brown. Over the last 10 years, the committee has grown the school's collection of art by more than 150 pieces and has initiated various programs and initiatives such as Art for Breakfast and the school’s On Loan program. The William Shearburn Gallery specializes in painting, sculpture, and works on paper by modern and contemporary masters, and Shearburn and his wife, Julie, have donated many of the school's most significant pieces in the permanent collection.
Abbott observed, "graduates of Burroughs often tell me that they didn’t realize the significance of the collection on campus until they go off to college or visit a major museum and see pieces by the same artists displayed at Burroughs. The difference at JBS is that you, all of us, can get close to the art. Art and equity are joint passions for William and Julie, and several years ago, they made a wonderful charitable gift to Burroughs establishing the Shearburn Family Scholarship, which enables one of you to be here in this assembly hall today. Thanks to William’s eye for beauty and love of fine art, we are surrounded by a phenomenal collection of beautiful pieces… artwork that elevates the experience for all of us, every single day."
In accepting the award, Shearburn said, "I know of very few other secondary schools in the country that can compare with Burroughs in the fine arts category. An exceptional, growing collection, a curriculum that uses the arts effectively as a teaching tool, a gallery that consistently shows quality work by professional artists and thoughtful and provocative arts programming. The arts are indeed woven into the fabric of this school. The art around campus is a large component of what makes Burroughs feel like Burroughs, and I am very proud of the transformative effect that the collection and programming has had here."
Like Goldberg, Shearburn's "life plan then was very intuitive and organic. Doors kept opening and I kept walking through. I implore you guys — don’t be afraid to walk through those doors."
Shearburn's complete remarks follow. They address the importance of art at Burroughs and much of the recent work done by the FAAC. They also share his Burroughs experience. Scroll down for a sampling of art which the Shearburns have donated and the FAAC has helped secure for JBS.
Thank you, Andy, for the kind words, and thank you, Alumni Board, for this special award. It is very significant for me to be here today in front of the student body, including my two kids, Emma and Brice, my wife, Julie, and my mother and sister, many former classmates, former recipients, and so many good friends.
I was hesitant when asked if I would accept this award, because receiving something like this means you are getting old. But the numbers don’t lie. I graduated from JBS in 1979, and my class is celebrating our 40th reunion this weekend. Ouch!
Honestly, it is hard for me to comprehend. The passage of time, as many of you are starting to learn, is a strange phenomenon.
Before I share my Burroughs experience, I would like to give an overview of the arts at JBS.
In 1922, when Burroughs was founded, the arts played a significant role in the new school. The original Bulletin of Information declared that:
“The Fine Arts belong not on the decorative fringes of education but close to the center of it. They are the finest expression, in their various forms, of the human spirit.”
So, since the beginning, Burroughs has consistently stressed and nurtured the importance of the visual arts.
Along the way, there were committed faculty members like Fred Dreher, who started the first gallery on campus, and Joanna Collins, who taught at JBS and ran the Bonsack Gallery from 1957 to 1993. Both worked tirelessly to build the collection and keep the visual arts at the forefront.
That original commitment is stronger than ever today.
My involvement as an alum began in 2007. That year, Kim Kuehner '71 made a donation to Burroughs in memory of his sister, Kerry ’68. The funds were used to re-purpose the breezeway between the dining hall and the Fine Arts Building for a new student gallery and reception area that is now called Kuehner Gallery.
That same year, Andy Abbott and Jim Kemp, who was the advancement director at the time, asked me to help form a committee that was being created to promote and advance the arts at JBS.
Quite frankly, I wasn't really interested. I was very busy at work. But, I did think to myself, I have two young kids, and they are probably going to want to go to Burroughs, so I better say yes!
So, I said yes, and that conversation started what has become a very rewarding 12-year collaboration.
Our committee, the Fine Arts Advisory Committee, is comprised of current parents, past parents, alumni and our wonderful fine arts faculty. As Andy said, I currently co-chair the committee with fellow parent, Dwyer Brown.
Our goals are straightforward. We strive to preserve, maintain and advance the collection as well as promote and support the visual arts within the Burroughs community.
So, here’s what we have done so far.
First, we had some serious housecleaning to do. We cataloged the collection, created a new database, photographed everything and then identified the areas of concern in regard to framing, conservation, and much needed improved signage.
Then we instituted a series of programs and initiatives designed to achieve our bigger goals.
We worked hard to update the look of the Bonsack Gallery. Bonsack programming, which is overseen by [gallery director and painting and drawing teacher] Donya Alison has always been outstanding. Our committee’s goal was to re-brand and update the didactic content and presentation.
In 2009, we started the Annual Alumni Exhibition, which features the work of a professional alum artist during Alumni Weekend. The response from our alumni has been amazing, and every recipient has been well deserved. This year, Bobby Lucy’s work (JBS Class of ’84) is being shown.
As you can see from these images, invited artists are encouraged to interact with JBS students. This idea of student interaction with a professional artist is central to our mission.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Bonsack Gallery, we engaged art historian and past parent David Lobbig to curate an exhibition that told the story of a half-century of art at Burroughs.
In 2014, we created Art For Breakfast, the very popular bi-annual event that celebrates the arts for the entire JBS community. The Burroughs community is filled with life-long learners, and we have taken excursions to the St. Louis Art Museum, the Kemper at Washington University, and the Contemporary Art Museum. We have also hosted two Art for Breakfast events at Burroughs, including this year’s event, which featured a very lively lecture by St. Louis University art historian Dr. Bradley Bailey.
We have activated various spaces around campus for the purpose of showing temporary, cutting edge works.
Since Haertter Hall opened in 2014, there have been nine temporary exhibitions on the large curved wall in the lobby, each lasting a semester.
We have engaged the Burroughs community by borrowing works of art from the collection of parents and alums in the On Loan program.
... [A] magnificent Kehinde Wiley painting ... was on loan from Susan and David Sherman in 2016. Wiley’s highly celebrated large scale paintings of Ferguson were just shown at the St. Louis Art Museum. But guess what, we showed him first!
Also Kara Walker in 2018 on loan from past parent and FAAC member Maryanne Simmons. Kara is just opening an amazing show in the Turbine Hall at the Tate in London, by the way.
We collaborated with another Burroughs committee, the Community & Equity Partnership, to help mark the anniversary of the MLK assassination. For those of you who were not able to make it, it was a moving and powerful evening and exhibition.
We collaborated again with Maryanne Simmons drawing from her exquisite collection of vintage rock posters to curate an exhibition focused on the year 1968, which was last year’s school-wide curriculum initiative.
We have added more than 150 works of art to the permanent collection, either by gift or purchase with a specific agenda of adding works by women and people of color. The growth of the collection fosters Burroughs mission and commitment of learning through and living with art.
We have focused on thoughtfully adding sculpture to the collection, as the landscape of campus has changed with the addition of new buildings.
And most recently, with support from a few current and past parents, we commissioned the very celebrated contemporary artist and alum Tom Friedman '83 to create an incredible life-size sculpture of John Burroughs in Diemer Courtyard.
I know of very few other secondary schools in the country that can compare with Burroughs in the fine arts category.
An exceptional, growing collection, a curriculum that uses the arts effectively as a teaching tool, a gallery that consistently shows quality work by professional artists and thoughtful and provocative arts programming.
The arts are indeed woven into the fabric of this school.
The art around campus is a large component of what makes Burroughs feel like Burroughs, and I am very proud of the transformative effect that the collection and programming has had here.
Now about my Burroughs experience.
In 1967, when I was six, my parents got divorced. Our comfortable family situation became complicated. In the ’60s, women were at a real disadvantage in a divorce situation, and my mom was no exception. We moved to a racially and socio-economically diverse neighborhood in mid-town called LaClede Town. My siblings and I attended public school in the City of St. Louis. My mother, who is truly remarkable, had to re-enter the workforce. She taught at Clinton Peabody School, a rough inner-city school by day, and by night she went to St. Louis University and earned her masters and doctorate degrees in education, all the while raising seven kids as a single parent! We had a unique, hectic lifestyle to say the least, but we made it work.
So when I arrived at Burroughs in 1974, I was different. I had no history with the school, I came from a very different background than most of the kids, I was on financial aid, I had six other siblings at six different schools. Plus, I started in 8th grade, and that made it an especially difficult transition.
But, what I did have in common with virtually all Burroughs students was a very strong desire to learn and an overwhelming curiosity. I believe one of the things Burroughs does best is to take a curious kid and set them on course.
And over the course of the next five years, I made life-long friends, learned so much, had many successes and many failures and gained a lot of confidence.
I have amazing memories of my time at Burroughs: that important game against Country Day, those tests that I still have nightmares about, the fun parties, hanging out with friends, driving aimlessly around, one of my lines from the 10th Grade play (“London, Sir, Reuters News Agency”), the older girls, the concerts I went to, Drey Land, prom, senior prank and finally graduation — and the scary feeling I had of never being able to duplicate those special friendships and feelings from Burroughs.
I learned what all Burroughs students learn:
To be open
To be accepting.
To be independent.
To be compassionate.
To think critically.
To function with integrity.
To be able to defend your position.
To actually be able to look someone in the eye and have a conversation.
That uncomfortable feeling of getting out of your comfort zone. (Think 10th-grade play for me.)
The ability to deal with failure and equally as important how to deal with success.
How to work hard and how to play hard.
I had teachers who inspired me and made me want to be better and do better. I thrived here and I loved it.
We had an amazing Head of School, Ed Cissel. Andy reminds me a lot of Mr. Cissel. Ed understood that we were still kids. We were pushed hard and we were expected to excel, but we were encouraged to have fun and we did!
In 1977, as I was about to enter junior year, my mother, who by that time was a professor at Fontbonne University, was offered a job as department chair at a small liberal arts college in North Carolina. She accepted the job, but there was no way I was leaving Burroughs, especially just before junior year. I begged my mom to stay. My brother, John, was headed to Vanderbilt that year, and my brother, Fitz, was a junior at Wash U. I thought it would be a great idea to share an apartment with my WU brother, and he could serve as my guardian. Guess what? Burroughs agreed to it?! Hey, it was the '70s!
Needless to say, my apartment was a very popular study destination! Also, needless to say, my freshman year of college was slightly anti-climatic!
But seriously, my junior and senior years typify what Burroughs is really about. Of course, Burroughs excels in the three A’s — academics, athletics and the arts. The honors, awards, state championships, National Merit Scholars. The numbers are always impressive. But where Burroughs really excels is in being a family.
As fun as it might seem to be able to essentially go to college in your junior year of high school, it was tough on me. I had to grow up fast and there were some scary moments. But during those two years, there were multiple families who I leaned on and who were there for me. The Shermans, the Aglers, the Wulfings, and the Altvaters to name a few. The countless meals and time I spent with these families and advice I received were vital to my success and I am forever thankful.
I am also forever thankful that I actually graduated!
But truly, that sense of family is what JBS is really about. I saw it when I was a student here, and I see it here today.
Anyway, I always envied the kids that knew what they wanted to do in life when they were in high school. That was not me.
I left Burroughs with no idea of what I wanted to do.
My first college choice was not a good choice. Seniors, it happens, but it all works out. I transferred to Wash U and loved it. I majored in Latin American Studies and History.
But I left college the same way I arrived — with no idea what I wanted to do.
My life plan then was very intuitive and organic.
Doors kept opening and I kept walking through.
I implore you guys, don’t be afraid to walk through those doors.
After college, I sold cable TV door to door, sold real estate, followed the Grateful Dead, traveled extensively in Mexico, skied a lot, applied to grad school and finally ended up in the art world.
Luckily, I found my passion. Something I love doing. Something that I am good at. Something that is constantly revealing. Something that allows that same curious kid who came to Burroughs in 1974 to be curious every day.
So thank you, Burroughs, for all you have done for me. I feel very fortunate to be able to return the favor.