John Bunker

John Bunker
Turkey, July 2014

At any given moment, local fine artist John Bunker can be found consulting with museums or discussing the upcoming season of the 2016 Riverside Fine Arts Association Concert Series, but what he really wants to be doing is painting’ to ‘what he really wants to do is paint in his home studio in Ortega.

Bunker grew up in White Springs where he describes a remarkable childhood. As a young man he wrote for a county newspaper, managed a drugstore, worked in the tobacco industry and helped win a tournament as captain of the high school basketball team. He was one of only 16 seniors in his 1960 high school graduating class.

John Bunker, 1945, age 3

“I was fortunate to grow up in the country. On Saturdays we drove to the nearest ‘big cities’ of Jacksonville and Lake City to shop. It was so exciting. My mother bought her shoes at LaRose Shoe Store downtown and I rode the escalators in the big Cohen Brothers Store. I still remember those because they were partially made of wood. Mother would park me and my siblings at the double-matinee movies in one of the downtown theaters while she shopped…we loved it,” he said.

His father, Paul Sanford Bunker, grew up in Maine and his mother, Mary Lawrence Bunker, was from Miami/Key West. His parents met while Mary was visiting her sister in Maine. The Maine Bunkers were a Mayflower descendent family of eight generations in New England. Many sites there are named for the family.

Bunker graduated from Florida State in 1964, with an art design and art history degree and moved into a small apartment on Post Street. He accepted his first job in Jacksonville working as an illustrator for the Florida Times-Union’s Sunday magazine.

John Bunker, 1946, age 4

His wife, Diane, 71, also graduated from Florida State, with an English degree and biology minor in 1966 but the couple did not meet at FSU. They each completed teaching certificates because of the need for teachers in Jacksonville. They met while teaching at Southside Junior High School (now Southside Middle School). Diane went on to teach biology and zoology at Ed White High School for 36 years before retiring in 2002.

When the Bunkers married in 1968, John skipped his graduate school graduation ceremony at Vanderbilt to attend their Miami wedding ceremony. Their first home in Jacksonville was a duplex at 1322 Landon Avenue in San Marco. They lived there until their landlord sold it and gave them notice. They soon moved to Ortega and have lived there since 1972.

Bunker_09“We found our Ortega home completely by chance because we had to quickly move. We drove around our favorite neighborhoods in Avondale and Ortega to see what was available,” they reminisced.

Few homes were available then. Interest rates were extremely high. The Bunkers felt fortunate to be able to rent and eventually buy their home, the first built in 1947 in Ortega by Ira Burger, who built several area homes.

“We bought our home from the estate of the late Mrs. Juydin H. Elliott. She was a well-known local musician, pianist and organist who taught many Ortega children to play on two grand pianos she kept in the front living/dining room,” they said.

Diane and John Bunker leaving for their honeymoon in 1968

They enlisted the help of two local architects, Geoffrey Brune of KGB Architects at that time and for the second phase, Robin Porter, who worked with Robert Broward. The expansion of their traditional clapboard-style home progressed gradually over time. They added a new foyer, larger dining room, a light-filled sunroom and John’s expansive art studio/office where his paintings splash glorious-hued flowers, butterflies, trees and angels from floor to ceiling. It’s like stepping into a magical Garden of Eden and nearly impossible to leave.

Bunker is passionately interested in many things and actively committed to community organizations.

1986, Koger Art Museum

In 1970 John was hired by the Duval County School Board to coordinate an enrichment in arts education program for secondary students, which he continued for 10 years. He had volunteered at the Jacksonville Art Museum since its move from Riverside to Beach Boulevard in 1966. During this time he developed a Center for Visual Art Education at the museum, where he also worked part-time as curator of museum education. Later he served as associate, then interim director of Jacksonville Art Museum. Bunker’s art enrichment program for students and the Center for Visual Art Education were considered pioneering concepts in art education at the time.

In 1994 he returned to painting full-time only to be asked to serve as interim, then director of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens from 1995-1996. Bunker is a graduate of both the Smithsonian’s Fundamentals of Museum Management and the J.P. Getty Museum Management Institute UC Berkeley.

Bunker’s lifetime experience is unique because not only is he recognized as an acclaimed artist, but also as a respected museum curator, director and innovative art educator. He is especially proud of two major projects, examples of his commitment to help the community and promote Jacksonville whenever possible.

One was his work as part of the team that coordinated the monumental Ramses II exhibition (also called Ramses the Great) in 1986 at the newly renovated Prime Osborn Convention Center.

“That exhibit was historic for Jacksonville. Not only was it the first  major show in the newly renovated convention center, it brought a priceless collection of artifacts from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo here as one of the few U.S. cities where it was displayed. It was a tremendous undertaking that brought thousands of people to Jacksonville and attracted national attention,” he said.

Bunker completed the other major design project – four Jaguar paintings – which he donated for a car artist to paint on a 2000 Volkswagen Beetle. The one-of-a-kind Jaguar car was donated by Tom Bush Volkswagen to Ronald McDonald House in San Marco to be auctioned off at a fundraiser. The 2001 event raised $100,000.

Jon M. Fletcher/The Times-Union- 01/21/07-- John Bunker, a long-time Jacksonville artist and former director of the Cummer Museum and Gardens and the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art, is producing limited edition prints of one of his paintings for the Patrons of the Heart, a non-profit organization that brings children from developing countries to the United States for heart surgery. Photographed in his home studio January 22, 2007. (The Florida Times-Union, Jon M. Fletcher)

Jon M. Fletcher/The Times-Union- 01/21/07– John Bunker, a long-time Jacksonville artist and former director of the Cummer Museum and Gardens and the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art, is producing limited edition prints of one of his paintings for the Patrons of the Heart, a non-profit organization that brings children from developing countries to the United States for heart surgery. Photographed in his home studio January 22, 2007. (The Florida Times-Union, Jon M. Fletcher)

Today Bunker devotes the majority of his time and energy to his still life and abstract water-based acrylic paintings on canvas or paper. He typically works on two or three projects at once. His career highlights, accomplishments and honors are extensive and best viewed in their entirety on the internet or his website. His paintings hang in museums, corporate, public and private collections worldwide and can be seen locally at Stellars Gallery/Ponte Vedra Beach, The Framing Establishment on Herschel Street or downtown at the Southlight Gallery.

The Bunkers are close to both their extended families, attending family and holiday gatherings in several states. He has created and donated many works of art for local charity fundraisers and they also support Riverside Fine Arts Series, Ronald McDonald House, Patrons of the Heart, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd where they are members, and other community and arts organizations and nonprofits.

John walks four to five miles daily around Ortega, and Diane enjoys Jazzercise and her book and dinner club gatherings with friends. The Bunkers are avid readers and long ago lost count of the books in their home. Because of his many years curating the Koger Gallery’s Asian Art Collection, John’s wish list includes travel to Japan and China where he plans to study Asian art, a style which has influenced his painting. Trips to Brazil, the tip of South America and the Amazon River are next on the list.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News
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