An astute eye enhanced by knowledge from dealers has helped this collector hone his dynamic and diverse collection.
For a collector to combine paintings by Fairfield Porter, Jules Olitski and Paul Wiesenfeld in one room and to commission V’Soske, through his decorator, to produce a rug in the precise celery green to hold it all together takes a certain kind of genius, which our collector denies he has. He attributes his skill to learning from the best dealers in the country, getting to know them and coming to trust their vetting process in selecting the best art to represent in their galleries.
When he returned from service in the Navy in Vietnam in 1970, he went to an exhibition at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and was invited to join its contemporary collector group. The group traveled to other cities to visit its museums, to learn and to purchase works for the museum at galleries whose owners have since become legendary. “After a while,” he says, “I began to think, ‘If the group doesn’t buy this piece for the museum, I’ll buy it!’ I was hooked.
“My mother also became enthused and when the group didn’t have quite enough to purchase a work it wanted, she would quietly help out,” he continues. “I bought a couple of things for her, American works like paintings by Leon Kroll. My parents loved them but I felt they were pretty but boring pictures. I liked newer work.” He also gave his parents
a Steuben glass figurine for Christmas every year. The collection now graces his living room. The Krolls now grace the collection of a museum.
As he glanced around his office during our conversation, he mentioned works as varied as paintings by David Sharpe, Janet Fish and Dante Marioni’s shelves of glass vessels. “It took me 40 years to find the right Janet Fish,” he says. Outside his office is an 84-by-72-inch by Ross Bleckner.
He had seen the Wiesenfeld in his living room hanging in an exhibition at Robert Schoelkopf Gallery in New York but the exhibition was sold out. Ten years later the painting went back to the gallery on consignment and he was able to buy it.
Since the collection is so wonderfully eclectic I asked him, what it is that attracts him to a piece. “Instant impact,” he responds, “and the design. I’m not impulsive. I’m a quick study and I’ve come to know exactly what I like. I’m not a collector seeking celebrity or celebrity art. I buy what I like when the artists are alive. They need to eat today! I also like to support the established galleries that make huge sacrifices to support them. The works are highly vetted and you have connoisseurship already built in.”
He claims to have “failed finger painting in kindergarten” and not to have any creativity. “Artists have a completely different work environment than I do. I am not solitary in my business and civic endeavors. It’s a totally different life going to studios and witnessing the artists’ drive and their commitment to their art. I love working with artists who don’t know how brilliant they are and love giving them a spotlight.”
He says, “I ran out of wall space decades ago” and admits “I’m nuts. I keep buying!” In addition to displaying work in the office and public spaces of his company, he loans works to exhibitions as well as to local not-for-profits for their offices. “I recently sent out a truckload to a not-for-profit. The Community Foundation of Louisville has
about 40 works on loan and the offices of the Metro United Way have others.”
The collector advises those starting out, “Don’t listen to the hype. Follow your heart and your gut. You’re making a lifetime commitment.”
The works in his home and office are keepers although pieces are loaned. “I don’t buy for investment,” he says, “but if a piece becomes too valuable, I sell it to benefit a scholarship program at the University of Louisville.”
He also supports the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest’s Artist-in-Residence Program, which awards up to four artists a year with a residence, a stipend and studio space to “explore ideas that reinforce Bernheim’s mission of ‘connecting people with nature.’”
He often opens his home for charitable events. He says, “I raise money for charities but people aren’t often interested in the collection. For me, it’s home. It’s part of me.”
Even his family didn’t always understand his choice of paintings for his collection. “My father thought the Hans Hofmann in the dining room looked like ‘red and green pond slime.’ I only wish he were alive today so I could tell him it’s probably worth more than his house!”
Auction houses may clamor after a piece but its place in the collection and as part of him keeps it in its place. One of the pleasures of the collection is the fact that an iconic painting might be displayed next to a piece of folk art that he bought when the artist needed the money but who has since been recognized as a master artist.
Sitting on the floor of the hall is a wooden dog with a bird on its back by Marvin Finn (1913-2007). Finn said, “I’ve been whittling around with junk all my life… There were 10 boys and two girls in my family, and most of them older than I was, so I didn’t have toys except I made them.” Today he is recognized internationally and a flock of fanciful birds graces Louisville Waterfront Park.
Collectors often have an innate gift—a discerning eye. This collector, like all good collectors, has augmented the gift by learning not only by looking but also from seeking advice from some of the country’s best dealers—dealers who not only sell art, but educate their customers.
“Don’t listen to the hype. Follow your heart and your gut. You’re making a lifetime commitment.”
On the left in the living room is View from a High Ledge, 1972, oil on canvas, by Fairfield Porter (1907-1975). In the hall is Charles Arnoldi’s Straw Dogs, 1982, laminated plywood. To the left of the fireplace is Passion Flight 1, 1977, by Jules Olitski (1922-2007). Above the fireplace is Interior with Turquoise Vase, 1973, oil on canvas, by Paul Wiesenfeld (1942-1990).
The sculpture between the living room and library is Mel Kendrick’s Osage with Rays, 1986, in Osage wood. The large painting above the side table is View from a High Ledge, 1972, oil on canvas, by Fairfield Porter (1907-1975). The oil on canvas in the dining room is The Butler’s in Love, 1985, by Mark Stock (1951-2014). On the coffee table is a ceramic piece by Aggie Zed. The stacked paintings in the adjoining library are acrylic on paper by Theophilus Brown (1919-2012). They are, from top, Beached, 1991; Woman on Horseback, 1990; and Untitled (Three Figures and a Canoe), 1991.
Above the chest in the dining room is a 2012 woodblock and mixed-media piece by Keiko Hara. The ceramic vase is an early work by Sergei Isupov. The rooster is early Kentucky pottery folk art.
In the master bedroom is Martin Mull’s Sanctuary, 2010, oil on linen. The earthenware sculpture behind the chair, XVII, is by Lydia Buzio. An antique quilt covers the bed.
Christopher Brown’s oil on linen False Start, 2004, hangs in the living room. Arranged on a Biedermeier table the collector bought in London is a collection of Steuben glass figurines he gave to his parents over the years.
To the left in the hallway is Charles Arnoldi’s Straw Dogs, 1982, laminated plywood. The portrait is Man with a Ball, 1993, oil on canvas, by Dan McCleary. The dog and bird is by the noted Kentucky folk artist Marvin Finn (1913-2007).
8 In the dining room is Still Life with Table,
1949, by Hans Hofmann (1880-1966). To the left of the doorway is
Sprouting, 1945, oil on canvas, by Alexander Calder (1898-1976). To the right is a 2010 mixed-media sculpture by Louisville artist Patrick Donley. On the counter to the left is a piece of found art that reminded the collector of Stuart Davis. On the counter in the foreground is a plate of acrylic on hydrocal and mixed-media Donuts by Tom Pfannerstill.
In the guest room on the left is Jane Fisher’s 1988 oil on panel Dead Beat. The two 1987 oils above the bed are scenes of Charlottesville by Philip Geiger. The ceramic teapot in the nightstand is by John Gill.