“A very personal, life-long pursuit” – the Lucinda Bunnen Papers

by Cori Williams, Collection Services Processing Intern, Lucinda Bunnen papers

This is the fourth post in a series on the accessioning and processing of the Lucinda Bunnen Papers. 

“Making photographs represents a very personal, life-long pursuit, rather than a chronological record of events or places.” – Lucinda Bunnen

Lucinda hanging her first show at Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta, 1971

After accessioning and minimally processing the first 18 boxes, I began creating a finding aid- the map for the researcher. The first task was writing a biographical note. I looked at some other finding aids on the Rose Library’s website for some context. I was specifically looking at the notes in the Horace Tate papers and the Robert Woodruff papers bio note. I wrote up a first draft of Lucinda’s biography and sent it to my supervisor for edits. Most of the comments asked for more specifics; What boards did Lucinda serve on? If she started photography at 40, what was she doing before that? ? Lucinda had written various biographies that I found in her collection that helped to piece together a more complete biography for my second pass. I added more content where suggested and ended up with over three pages of content! Unfortunately, the finding aid notes are usually kept to about a page. So, I had what seemed like an impossible task: How do you tell the extent of Lucinda’s life regarding her papers on one page?

She won the Atlanta steeplechase as an anchor rider for her team. She wanted to be a bacteriologist when she was young after being fascinated with the man that came to their farm in his traveling lab/home. She, her collaborator Virginia Warren Smith, and her sheepdog Daisy took road trips throughout the southern U.S. and up to Alaska. She was heavily involved in collaborating with architect Cecil Alexander in designing her Atlanta home. She was arrested and given a misdemeanor and six months of probation for walking her beloved dogs off leash at a federal park near the Chattahoochee River. For her fortieth birthday her family and her siblings and their families traveled to Peru where she made a super 8 film which began her photography career. She was always on the lookout for heart shaped rocks.

When you search for her finding aide you will find a concise bio note. However, I wanted to attach the longer version here. Even with three pages there is still so much more that could be written. If this is the first time you are learning about Lucinda, I am honored to be able to introduce her to you. If you knew her as the photographer both supporting the arts and taking pictures, I am honored to be able to point you towards the many other hats she wore in her life. If you were lucky enough to know Lucinda and perhaps spend some time at her house on Randall Mill Rd. or walking the trail on her property, I hope my overview of her life gives justice to her legacy.

Lucinda’s photo of her heart-shaped rock collection

Full Biography:

Lucinda Weil Bunnen (1930-2022) was born January 14, 1930 in Westchester County, New York, to Sylvan E. Weil (1892-1952), a stockbroker and gentlemen farmer, and Ruth Alice Norman Weil (1901-1971), who at 40 years old received a PH. D. in Organic Chemistry. She grew up at Hickory Hill, an estate and farm in Katonah, New York. She had an older sister Phoebe Weil Franklin Lundeen (1928-1985) and a younger brother Frank A. Weil (1931). Her grandfather was Aaron E. (Nusbaum) Norman (1860-1936), president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and her aunt was photographer Dorothy Stecker Norman (1905-1997). She was married to Robert “Bob” or “RLB” L. Bunnen (1922-2012). She is the mother of Robert “Robb ”L. Bunnen Jr. (1954), Belinda Bunnen Reusch (1956), and Melissa Bunnen Jernigan (1958). Bunnen died at home in Atlanta, Georgia in 2022.

Lucinda’s parents and siblings (left to right: Frank A. Weil, Sylvan Weil, Lucinda Weil (Bunnen), Ruth Alice Weil, Phoebe Weil, 1943

Bunnen attended Ripowam School (Bedford, NY) for grades K-7th before switching to the Forman School (Litchfield, Connecticut) for 8th and 9th grade. She transferred to Walnut Hill School (Natick, Massachusetts) for 10th-12th and graduated in 1948. After graduation she attended Centenary Junior College (Hackettstown, New Jersey). In 1950 she went to finishing school at Brillantmont International School (Lausanne, Switzerland), and briefly attended the University of Geneva (Switzerland). At 19 she was invited to join the U.S. Olympic ski team as a downhill racer. However. Her father’s declining health brought her back to the U.S. Upon returning she studied at the New School of Social Research (New York, New York) and Columbia University (New York, New York). She did volunteer work at the Henry Street Settlement House (New York, New York) and occupational therapy at the Bellevue Rehabilitation Center at New York University (New York, New York).

Lucinda W. Bunnen’s family (left to right: Lucinda W. Bunnen, Melissa Bunnen, Belinda Bunnen, Robb Bunnen, Bob Bunnen, 1963)

In 1952 she married Robert L. Bunnen at Hickory Hill, and they briefly lived in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts from 1953 until 1956. Robert got his degree in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery from Tufts University, and their children Robb Bunnen and Belinda Bunnen (Reusch) were born. The Bunnens moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1956 where they later had their third child, Melissa Bunnen (Jernigan). Bunnen separated from her husband in the early 1980’s but they never divorced.

After moving to Atlanta, The Bunnens purchased a 24-acre plot of land northwest of downtown. Bunnen assisted architect Cecil Alexander in designing a house for the property and in 1959 they moved into their home on Randall Mill Road. During this time Bunnen played ALTA tennis and began horseback riding with the Shakerag Hounds, competing in Combined Training Horse Events and co-founding the Atlanta Hunter-Jumper Classic. She was on the board of directors for Planned Parenthood (Atlanta, Georgia), Multiple Sclerosis Society, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Arts Festival of Atlanta, as well as AND Media Studio (Atlanta, Georgia). She was also on the board of the Norman Foundation, a family foundation that supports social and environmental justice as well as the Lubo Fund Inc., which was established by Bunnen and her husband in 1959 and primarily supports the arts, education, and human services.

Over the new year from 1969 to 1970, Bunnen along with her siblings, their spouses, and their children went on a trip to Peru to celebrate Bunnen’s 40th birthday. She brought along a super 8 camera to document the trip wanting to make a film rather than have a party. Once she returned, she showed the film to filmmaker friend Tuillo Petrucci. He suggested she take a summer class in photography taught by Michael Bumenstadt that was being offered in adult education at the Atlanta School of Art where Petrucci was teaching. At the time the Atlanta School of Art did not have a photography department. Together with Petrucci and printmaker/teacher Norman Wagner they convinced the school to add a photography class which was taught by Robin Johnstone, a Yale journalist major.

Bunnen shot her first roll of film in Pensacola, Florida which included what she credits as her first photograph, “The Nuns on the Beach in Pensacola”. Soon after her first classes, Portman and Portman Architects purchased photographs from Bunnen for the O’Hare Hyatt House (Chicago, Illinois). In 1971, Harry Berkowitz offered Bunnen her first exhibition at Saks Fifth Avenue (Atlanta, Georgia) after watching her photograph during a recent trip together. Gudmond Vigtel, director of the High Museum (Atlanta, Georgia) at the time, came to see the show and invited Bunnen to be in the Georgia Artist Exhibit at the High Museum. Richard Hill, an artist and teacher at Atlanta School of Art, saw the exhibition and invited Bunnen to have a one-person show in his gallery, Scott Gallery. This was the first one-person show of photographs at a gallery in Atlanta. Hill also sent fifty works of art to Washington D.C. to compete for a spot to go to Russia via an exchange program. Ten pieces were selected to go including Bunnen’s who was the only woman artist and only photograph in the collection of artworks sent. This photograph ended up being acquired by Pushkin Museum (Moscow, Russia). In the 70s Petrucci asked Bunnen to work with him on the City Show, which was being put together for the Children’s Education Department at the High Museum (Atlanta, Georgia). Bunnen created an 11ft high and 50ft long mural collage of her photographs depicting imagery from the city of Atlanta at the time. In 1976 Bunnen photographed the opening of artist Isamu Noguchi’s Playscape in Piedmont Park (Atlanta, Georgia) that had been commissioned by the High Museum of Art.

Lucinda (Weil) Bunnen’s childhood home, Hickory Hill in Katonah, New York, 1929

In 1973, she was a founding member of Nexus, a photography cooperative (now the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center) during which time she was experimenting with different techniques in the darkroom including heat process, solarization, sandwiched negatives, infrared, and collages which would inform her future work. Bunnen continued her education by attending a workshop taught by Minor White at the Hotchkiss School (Hotchkiss, Connecticut) in 1973. During her career she also attended workshops by Michael Lesy (1979), Duane Michals via Nexus (1979), Linda Connor via Nexus (1980), Nathan Lyons via the Visual Studies Workshop (Rochester, New York 1983), Mary Ellen Mark via The Friends of Photography on a trip to India (1986), and Larry Clark (1990).

In 1978 Bunnen published her first book of photography. Movers and Shakers in Georgia was co-created with Frankie Coxe and featured images of notable Georgians including John Portman, Robert Woodruff, Mayor Maynard Jackson, and Ted Turner. During a book signing, Bunnen met Virginia Warren Smith (Ginny). In the 80’s Bunnen and Smith went on cross country road trips that generated the photographs for her next two books, Scoring in Heaven: Gravestones and Cemetery Art of the American Sunbelt States (1991) and Alaska: Trail, Tales, and Eccentric Detours (1992) co-authored by Smith. In 1994 Bunnen was invited to and attended the first ever in person meeting of The META Museum, an independent creative collaboration, that brought together 35 creatives for five days at Camp Rockmont (Black Mountain, North Carolina). In 1996 she photographed the Olympics including the President Clinton and his family in Atlanta, Georgia. During this period, she continued traveling throughout the world documenting different cultures, including the Asmat people of New Guinea, Indonesia.

In 1999 Petrucci curated a retrospective of Bunnen’s work at the Lamar Dodd Art Center of LaGrange College (LaGrange, Georgia) producing the book Trails, Tales and Transformations- Retrospective Photographs 1970-1999 (2000). In May of 2002 Bunnen used a digital camera to document another META Museum meeting in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Although she had taken snapshots and created photo albums over the years, this was her first attempt to photograph digitally. She created an iMovie of the images and sent them to all the participants with the help of fellow photographer Judy Lampert. However, it wasn’t until later that Bunnen would make a more permanent switch to shooting digital. However, digital technology allowed her to experiment. She printed on silk, watercolor paper, and could enlarge her images beyond what the darkroom had allowed. In 2003 Richard Eagan curated the show Edges, Exposures, and Mayhem at Agnes Scott College (Atlanta, Georgia) which showed older works at a new larger scale along with newer images.

Lucinda W. Bunnen’s mother, who had a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, Ruth Alice Weil working in The Hickrill Chemical Research Laboratory built at Hickory Hill

Bunnen continued to exhibit, showing new work from her travels, looking back at her previous work and reconfiguring it, and documenting treasures she had collected over the years. She published two more books, Gathered (2018), and Constant Impermanence (2020). Her last show, Inward, Outward, Forward, was shown at the Atlanta Contemporary from 2021-2022. For this show, in addition to hanging her own work, she also presented works by other artists from her personal art collection.

Bunnen’s work can be found in collections including the Museum of Modern Art (New York, New York), The Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, New York), Pushkin Museum (Moscow, Russia), The Smithsonian (Washington DC), the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia), as well as others. In addition to other honors she received during her life, Bunnen was awarded the Governor’s Award in the Arts in 1986 and 2019, the Nexus Award in 2013, and in 2015 she was a Wonderoot Honoree (Atlanta, Georgia).

In addition to creating photography, Bunnen was an art collector. She began collecting photography from the Witkin Gallery (New York, New York) during the early 1970’s. Run by Lee Witkin, it was the only gallery in New York at the time that specialized in photography. The gallery was located close to her ailing mother’s residence who she was flying to visit about once a month. Witkin encouraged Bunnen to not only collect for herself, but to spread the word to the High Museum, (Atlanta, Georgia). Bunnen would ask Gudmond Vigtel (director of the High Museum at the time) to accompany her to see photography shown around the city including a portfolio of Ansel Adams works. Vigtel said there would be no interest in this work at the High. Bunnen purchased a print for herself for $100.

Lucinda W. Bunnen’s aunt, photographer, Dorothy Norman photographed by Alfred Stieglitz who she was close friends with

In 1973 The High Museum was one of the few museums that did not have a single photograph in their collection. Bunnen had brought a series of Lewis Hine’s Child Labor photos from New York City for Vigtel to see. He ended up purchasing one for the museum that had been taken in Georgia. In 1974 Vigtel bought eight Ansel Adams pieces for $300 each, three times the price they were when Bunnen had asked him to look at the portfolio.

After meeting Virginia Warren Smith in 1979, Bunnen and Smith discussed the idea of collecting photographs for the High Museum. Along with Bunnen and Smith, Peter Morrin, The High Museum’s 20th century curator, Jay Crouse, the owner of The Atlanta Gallery of Photography, and Chris Branuck, the director at The Atlanta Gallery of Photography, began to meet every couple of weeks for two years. With Bunnen financing the project they were able to acquire 80 photographs from notable photographers such as Cindy Sherman, Edward Westin, Clarence John Laughlin, and William Eggelston. This group of images formed the beginning of Subjective Vision: the Lucinda W. Bunnen Collection of Photographs for the High Museum. In 1983 photo critic A.D. Coleman wrote the introduction for the Bunnen Collection catalogue. Bunnen continued to collect personally and in 1995 American Photo Magazine identified her as one of the fifty most important collectors of photography in the world.

Over the years Bunnen served on the board of directors for organizations including Hambidge Center (Rabun Gap, Georgia 1993-2022), High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia,1980-90, 1991-96, 1998-2022), and Art Papers (Atlanta, Georgia, 1984-88, 1998-2021). She was also involved with Abused Women and Children Inc, Atlanta, Georgia (1997-2022), the National Black Womens’ Health Project, Atlanta, Georgia (1978-1990), and traveled to West Africa, Morocco, and Bosnia to photograph in support of The ArtReach Foundation (Washington DC).