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Art Beat


Falling in love


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. Jeez."

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 via

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