(Nov. 26, 1882 - Dec. 10, 1971)
Alumnus Henry Brunnier became a successful and significant engineer with his own company in San Francisco, but it was the passionate interest in the arts and antiques of his wife Ann that led to their lasting legacy left to Iowa State University and the creation of the Brunnier Art Museum named in their honor.
Henry Brunnier was born and raised in Manning, Iowa and enrolled at Iowa State College in 1899. While he initially attended the college with thoughts to become a contractor, it was under the tutelage of Professor (later Dean) Anson Marston that he decided to become an engineer. Henry first attended a lecture by Marston about water tower design. He then realized that his hometown of Manning was planning to build the type of water tower that Marston had so vehemently lectured against and Henry was able to convince the leaders of the town to build a Marston designed tower. From that point on, Henry would work closely with Marston, who became his mentor, and graduated in 1904. In 1941 Henry was awarded the Marston Medal by Iowa State, a high honor given by the Department of Engineering to prominent graduates.
Henry and Ann Weideman (1884-1970) originally met in Manning as children and would later reconnect, marrying in 1905. The couple was living in New York City where Henry worked for New York Edison when the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fires leveled the city of San Francisco and he was sent “on loan” to help reconstruct the demolished transportation lines. Henry Brunnier never returned to New York and in 1908 began his own engineering company, H.J. Brunnier Associates in California. He found great success through his integrity and honesty and became the lead engineer on several important high rise buildings that created the early San Francisco skyline. In the 1930s Brunnier served as a consultant on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which sealed his prominence in the field.
Henry Brunnier was also civic minded and a member of several associations, which he found to be beneficial personally and in his work, and had even begun meetings such as this in college when he coordinated sophisticated coed dinners for he and his fellow students. He was a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA), serving as president from 1945-1947. He was a charter member of the second ever formed Rotary Club in San Francisco beginning in 1908 and later became president of Rotary International from 1952-1953. Henry and Ann were able to travel the world through his membership and leadership in these associations and after accompanying her husband on a long train trip to the 1914 convention in Houston, Ann became known as “Rotary Ann”. For many years after this event the wives of presidents and women active in the Rotary would also be known as “Rotary Anns”.
It was during these travels when Ann developed a passionate love for collecting, beginning with dolls and spreading into all areas of the decorative arts. Although Ann had only been formally educated through the 8th grade, she was remarkably astute and intelligent. She learned to speak other languages fluently and as her passion for the decorative arts developed, she attained great knowledge about the works of art she was collecting. Ann’s enthusiasm allowed her to amass an exceptionally diverse collection of decorative arts, spanning from ancient Egypt and Rome to the 20th century and in all materials. Highlights of her collection included the dolls that first began her collections, but also delicate Roman and Venetian glass, Chinese ceramics from the Han through the Qing dynasties, and many exquisite examples of German porcelain and Bohemian glass.
It was in the early 1960s when Henry and Ann began to ponder the options of where to donate their collection. Iowa State was considered as Henry was an active alumnus, a lifelong member of the Alumni Association and Memorial Union, and an elected member of the Cardinal Guild, Cardinal Key, and Tau Beta Pi engineering fraternity. He was also a member of the Iowa State University Foundation Board of Governors in 1959, which formed with the goal of developing Iowa State’s first private, capital project fundraising program for the creation of the Iowa State Center. After a successful meeting and tour with then president, Dr. James H. Hilton, the enthusiasm shown for the collection along with the plans to exhibit the objects in a completely new conference center, the Brunnier’s agreed to give their art collection to Iowa State. Along with gifting their objects, Henry also made a considerable donation of IBM and National Lead stocks for the development of the Iowa State Center buildings, specifically for the construction of the Scheman Building and the exhibition space. This gift led to Henry’s active involvement in the design and construction of the Iowa State Center and the proposed exhibition of the Brunnier Collection. Unfortunately Ann and Henry would never see the completion of the Iowa State Center as she died in 1970 and he in 1971.
On September 19, 1975 the Henry J. Brunnier Gallery opened to the public, with galleries for changing exhibitions, display of the Brunnier Art Collection, and storage. In 1980 the name of the gallery changed to the Brunnier Gallery and Museum, as it continued to be a home for the original collection of the Brunnier’s art, but also a space for the display of changing exhibitions. Today the Brunnier Art Museum is an accredited institution, continuing to exhibit much of the Brunnier’s collection, which is the core of the holdings, but is now supplemented by the gifts of hundreds of other donors following in the generous footsteps of Henry and Ann.
Henry placed great pride in the education and mentorship he received at Iowa State, becoming a mentor himself by hiring young Iowa State engineers. While Ann never attended Iowa State, it was her passion for collecting that led the Brunnier’s to become active participants in the creation of the Iowa State Center and leave a lasting legacy in the Brunnier Art Museum, which continues in their name to bring wonderful art and unique educational opportunities to the entire Iowa State community.
Scott, Stanley, ed. Connections: The EERI Oral History Series, Henry J. Brunnier and Charles de Maria. Interviewed by Frank Killinger. Oakland, CA: Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, 2001. https://www.eeri.org/site/images/projects/oralhistory/brunnier.pdf
University Museums files for Henry and Ann Brunnier.