Back in the Bonsack: Fiber Artist Frankie Toan '08 Returns to Burroughs

Back in the Bonsack: Fiber Artist Frankie Toan '08 Returns to Burroughs

Frankie Toan '08 (they/them/theirs) spoke to students, faculty, and staff during assembly on Thursday, October 5, about their work as a Denver-based fiber artist. They returned to campus in conjunction with the opening of their show, Queer Gardens: Becoming Wild, in the Bonsack Gallery

Frankie holds a BFA in craft/material studies from Virginia Commonwealth University, with a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's studies. Their current body of work focuses on the Queer Garden, a place that incorporates ideas of queer ecology to rethink human-centered narratives of relationships, family, self, and nature. Each colorful installation builds upon and borrows from previous versions in playful, yet increasingly elaborate, ways. 

"The garden is often a place that's very contained and regulated and kind of outside of nature," Frankie said. "I like to think of the Queer Garden as a place to give up human control and to really foster interspecies relationships and systems of interdependency and mutual aid." 

When a student asked about their favorite piece, Frankie said that each new installation becomes their favorite piece. 

"I just love the way that the garden is growing, honestly," they said.

Some of Frankie's recent work has included installations at the Craft Alliance (St. Louis), Meow Wolf Denver, Museum of Museums (Seattle), and Atlanta Contemporary. Frankie is also the co-founder of RainbowDome, a company that facilitates community building through art and physical movement. Explained Frankie, "Our events are really about centering fun and joy and movement and connection, which I think is something that we can all use more of in our lives."

During their time as a Burroughs student, Frankie said that teachers in the Fine Arts Department — especially Donya Allison, the late Charlie Derleth, and retirees Howard Jones and Anne Martin — created a home for them within the school at a time when they were still finding their place in the world.

"The things I remember about the Intensive Studies Art class is that it was fun, it was challenging, it was rewarding," Frankie said. "But it also elevated art to the level of importance of other areas of study at Burroughs, and that was extremely important for me."

After their presentation, Frankie answered questions from students, faculty, and staff about their experiences as a queer teenager, ways to support queer teens in today's anti-trans political climate — by prioritizing not only the mental health and physical safety of our young people, Frankie said, but also their joyful spirits — and how they decided to pursue a career in art.

"Leaving Burroughs, I had a really tough decision about what I was going to do with the rest of my life, as many of you can relate to, I'm sure," Frankie said. "I felt so much support and encouragement from my art teachers to really go forth and follow art. And here I am today, continuing to do that."

Queer Gardens: Becoming Wild opened Friday, October 6, as part of our Centennial Finale Weekend and will be on view until Tuesday, November 28. The show includes a collaborative piece made with the help of a number of students and faculty, which will become part of the school's permanent collection. Another of Frankie's pieces, jayington 3.10.2018, hangs outside the Admission Office in the Brauer Building and was purchased by the Fine Arts Advisory Committee (FAAC) with funds from the Frances Thomas Martin Art Purchase Fund.