It may be a calling, this field of art that surrounds her.
“My great grandparents owned a gallery,” Rebecca Rosenfield said as she sat in the office of the Upper East Side gallery where she has been director for the past two years. “I had no idea until after I started the venture in grad school, and that’s when I learned about their gallery.”
That grad school is the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in midtown, a part of her journey that started in Arizona where she interned at the Scottsdale-based Bonner David Galleries as a college student over 12 years ago. She studied art history and Italian in Florence during her junior year, and eventually moved to Italy for a few years after graduation.
“I grew up heavily involved in the arts,” Rosenfield said. “My parents are big patrons of the cultural arts, my mother plays the flute, both my parents like to sing,” and her grandmother is an art collector.
Her grandmother would teach her about the paintings in her home and “that’s where the love of art sort of started, I think.”
Meeting Christi Bonner Manuelito and Clark David Olson, the founders and owners of Bonner David Galleries, where she learned about the importance of creating relationships with artists and collectors – what they call “a whole family of fine art” – was a big influence on her career path.
“I loved the opportunity,” Rosenfield said of her internship experience. “I really clicked with the owners Christi and Clark, and even after leaving, I stayed in touch.”
Moving to New York to study in 2013, she settled into the Upper East Side and felt right at home. “Christi always said, ‘you don’t belong in Arizona, you belong in New York,’” Rosenfield said over the years when she would return to visit.
“It’s true,” she said. “I was a New Yorker before I moved to New York.”
After stints at Christie’s and Bonhams, Manuelito and Olson, after 17 years at their Scottsdale location, finally made the leap to expand to the New York market and tasked Rosenfield to find the location. Finding the space became her full-time job.
Living in New York, she understood the real estate challenges ahead – especially with the list she had in mind: on the Upper East Side; near Museum Mile; and a place with lots of foot traffic.
Back in Arizona, Manuelito’s instructions were simple: she just wanted a ground floor space. Knowing what it would take to find that, Rosenfield tried to explain what it was like in Manhattan, but the owner was not swayed.
“When you see the place, you’ll know, you’ll feel it,” was the answer Rosenfield said she got. Not quite sure what to do with that response, she kept looking, now adding the ground floor request to her search.
It was on her way to a nearby realtor’s office that she saw a sign at 22 East 81st Street and made an appointment to see the space.
“I walked in and, lo and behold, a feeling came over me!” she said. “She’s right, there is the feeling.” She immediately called Manuelito and said, “I found the place.”
And so, Bonner David New York was born – first floor, steps from the Met Museum, brightly lit and spacious, perfect for the dual-concept gallery model offering traditional and contemporary art pieces that is Bonner David Galleries’ trademark.
Rosenfield says what Manuelito and Olson have done is a gift to her.
“’Here’s our gallery that we’ve been working on for 20 years, go open a location in New York’ – that takes a lot of trust,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be the one that can take on this journey.”
And she fits right in with neighborhood, she says. “We’re right next to Sistina [Italian restaurant] and they have been very welcoming,” as have been most of her neighbors, she said. “We really do feel a part of the community.”
Opening in February of 2020, just before the pandemic, the gallery did not get a chance to establish their presence before everything shut down in March. But Rosenfield used that time creatively.
“To communicate with people, we did themed windows, whether it was Passover, Easter – and then Mother’s Day, we did all flowers,” and people who were walking more because of lockdown noticed, she said. “I was aware, because when I would go on my own walks and I would have the dog, people would say of her window display ‘I really like that painting’ or ‘it made me so happy.’”
And if you have visited the gallery, you may have met Pom, her two-year-old miniature dachshund that often wags his way into the conversation about the latest painting.
“People come by to see him,” she says. And first-time visitors who may be uncertain about coming in, “they see a dog and they’ll come in and say hi.”
Reflecting on the connected dots from her family’s love of art to being the director of a New York gallery, Rosenfield thinks it has all fallen into place: “I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
“Here’s our gallery that we’ve been working on for 20 years ... I’m so grateful to be the one that can take on this journey.” Rebecca Rosenfield, director of Bonner David New York