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by LINDA MITCHELL
IT'S BEEN AN INTERESTING FEW
DAYS SINCE MY last Art Beat column ("Little Red Dots,"
Aug. 7), in which I suggested that the most direct way to support
the local art community was to buy art. Apparently the topic
struck a communal chord because everywhere I go, people seem
to want to talk about it, especially those who collect art themselves.
What I've learned from these conversations is that, for the majority
of collectors, supporting the arts tends to be an almost incidental
benefit of acquiring it. Instead, it appears that most people
buy art quite simply because they fall in love with it.
In fact, I couldn't help noticing
how people changed when they talked about their collections,
eyes and voices softening as they described a beloved piece of
art as fondly as if they were speaking of a child or a favorite
uncle. This affection was particularly evident when people talked
about the first pieces of art they ever acquired.
"It was white with this
incredible red, vibrant force of light going through it,"
said fine art jeweler Diana Penna Casey, ardently describing
the Edith Denkin painting she bought in Carmel back in 1960.
"I thought -- wow! This is gorgeous. I just fell
in love with it."
Diana's mother was an artist,
so when she was growing up in Laguna Beach she was surrounded
by art. Like her mother, Diana bartered her own art for other
artists' work, but until she saw the Denkin painting, she had
never actually purchased anything. "I had never spent money
on art before. It was $100 and I had to make payments, but I
just had to have it."
As with Diana, a lack of financial
resources didn't stop 28-year-old Violet Ensminger, manager of
The Gallery at Humboldt Carpets in Old Town, from attaining an
early object of her affections either. Violet acquired her first
painting when she was still a teenager, trading eight kilim rugs
for a Mike Gallarda still life. "It was these three really
nice, soft, fuzzy, beautiful -- peaches," Violet said, drawing
out the adjectives, sculpting those peaches in the air with her
hands. "There was just something about that painting. It
really did it for me."
Violet also grew up surrounded
by art since her father, Robert Duerksen, owner of The Gallery,
is an avid collector. (Violet's oldest daughter, 4-year old Isabel,
appears to be a chip off the old block, since she's already acquired
her first piece, a Gus Clark acrylic called "The Blood House,"
given to the budding collector by the artist himself, just because
it was her favorite.)
"Dad was good friends with
Mike [Gallarda], so I got to see real art and started to connect
the artist with the work," Violet says. "I saw the
pieces Mike was working on when he brought them to show my dad
and I started seeing that original art had value not just as
a piece of art, but also as a part of the artist."
Because she knew the artist
(and admits to having a crush on him), Violet always hoped to
get a piece of Gallarda's work, but it wasn't until she saw the
peaches that she felt compelled to act. "That was my very
first feeling of wanting a particular piece of work. I
just absolutely loved it. It's still my favorite piece."
Like Violet (and Isabel), investment
broker Bruce Emod's early forays into collecting were also fueled
by his affection for particular artists. He bought his first
piece of art, a Larry Eiffert painting featuring birds landing
on a lake, at the former Candystick Gallery in Ferndale. "I
saw the painting and just fell in love with it. I met Larry and
got to know him. His philosophy of life and art were so attractive
to me I started collecting his work and ended up with about 22
pieces. It got me hooked."
Though Bruce has gone on to
develop a large and impressive collection of local art, he says
he still loves that first Eiffert piece as much as he did the
day he bought it. Which brings me to another observation I had
while talking to local collectors: They almost never regret their
purchases. People spoke lovingly of pieces that have been with
them for years, gracing nearly every room in their houses at
one time or another.
"That duck has been all
over my house," Sharon Arnot said of "Duck Sleeping,"
the Mike Smith watercolor she purchased years ago in Mendocino.
Sharon (a painter herself who says she collects art because it
makes her happy) was led into collecting by her late husband,
Jim, but the Smith painting was the first one she actually chose
herself. "When we bought the painting, we thought it was
titled `Ducks Sleeping,' so Jim and I spent years searching
for that other duck, until we realized we'd misread the title.
While people rarely regret taking
home art they love, they tend to lament the "one that got
away," like the painting artist Terry Oats passed up in
Virginia Beach back in 1972.
"I've never forgotten that
painting. It was $450, which was way more than I could afford
at the time. The artist was literally a starving artist -- she
was bone-thin and told me whenever she had extra money she bought
paint instead of food. I couldn't afford the painting, but I
went out and bought her a bag of groceries."
Even though Terry doesn't remember
the artist's name, she clearly remembers the painting. "It
was of a house with a clothesline and a yard. The artist had
this really lush, sensual style. I always wished I'd worked out
a deal with her, even if I had paid her 5 dollars a month."
"It's not every day that
you find a piece you really love," observed local businessman
and collector Bill Pierson, whose first purchase was a still
life by Micki Flatmo. "Sometimes relationships with art
are like relationships with people. Pieces that really resonate
in your heart tend to resonate forever. They speak to you of
that time when you bought the piece and they contribute to your
life like old friends do."
Pierson thinks that people are
often intimidated about buying art because they think they don't
know enough about it. "There's a certain level of snottiness
in the art world. People don't want to look foolish by buying
the wrong thing. But you shouldn't look to your mind when you
buy art -- you should look to your heart."
Linda Mitchell can be reached
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