Life­long Pas­sion

An as­tute eye en­hanced by knowl­edge from deal­ers has helped this col­lec­tor hone his dy­namic and di­verse col­lec­tion.

American Art Collector - - Show Preview - BY JOHN O’HERN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY FRAN­CIS SMITH

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.


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