PERU — More than 60 years ago, Peru High School alumnus G. David Thompson was visiting an art class at his old school. The project for the week was making ceramic pottery.
Thompson asked the teacher if he’d like some classic examples of ceramics to help teach his class. Of course, the teacher said he’d like that.
A few weeks later, large crates showed up at the high school’s door with 54 vases, urns and other historic pottery pieces from ancient Asia. The oldest piece was made in 450 B.C. in China.
It was a seriously valuable donation to the school, and it was just one of many Thompson made to the high school from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Thompson, who graduated from Peru High School in 1913 and eventually amassed a fortune owning several steel companies in Pittsburgh, would sporadically drop off paintings, sketches and other pieces from world famous artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali over those three decades.
And for the last year, those artworks have hung in the Peru Community Schools Fine Art Gallery.
The gallery recently celebrated its first anniversary since it opened its doors after the school corporation spent $250,000 to transform a large, unused storage space behind the school’s stage into a high-tech, state-of-the-art museum.
One thing’s for sure. The gallery is a huge step up from where the school’s multimillion dollar art collection was previously housed.
After the new high school was built in the 1970s, the paintings, pottery pieces and sketches sat in a storage closet, unused and unseen by hardly anyone.
A few of the paintings hung on the wall, but that was it.
“Nobody really talked about them,” said Connie Cutler, the museum’s curator. “They were just there. A few people knew about how great the collection was, but not a lot.”