It’s hard to think of any phrase in the English language that is more pretentious than “my art collection.” It’s hard to even say it out loud without affecting the Larchmont lockjaw of Thurston Howell III.
Art collections are for folks with trust funds, vast inheritances or the salary of a Fortune 500 CEO. I certainly have none of those things, but the fact remains, I am in possession of an art collection.
I am not a hoarder. I have an art collection. There is a difference. And to make sure that difference is clear, I decided to hang the collection. All of it. In the living room. I had to hang them salon style — cheek by jowl from corner to corner, chair rail to 10-foot ceiling — to make them all fit. And in the process, I have created a chamber of intense emotions.
My daughter’s lovely pastel drawing of irises doesn’t deserve to rot in a box in the basement. After all, she won second place in the fourth-and-fifth-grade category at Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. It must be noted that the contest was all six elementary schools for the entire town of Montclair, New Jersey. And she was only in the fourth grade. The boy who took first prize was in the fifth grade. That is the sort of detail a proud parent needs to point out. We can’t help it. And she did another pastel drawing of an owl that I like even better. Both pictures deserve the light of day in their big gilded frames.
The joy they bring me every day is tempered by the fact that there are only the two. Right after completing those pictures, she was diagnosed with ADD and put on Adderall. She never painted again but she did sit on her bed and docilely complete her homework without complaint or interruption. A miracle we thought at the time. But almost 20 years later, I have to ask myself if it was worth it. Which I do every time I see those pictures.
They flank a ginormous watercolor of a room-scape painted by a friend who has since passed. I coveted that picture for years and couldn’t afford it. The picture was beautifully and joyously painted by a woman of almost 80 and expresses such a sense of a life well lived.
After carting the picture around to art shows for a couple of years and not selling it, she offered it to me at a discount because she knew how much I loved it. She also let me make monthly payments. You probably shouldn’t be buying art if you are so broke you have to buy it on the installment plan. But then again, you might not end up with an art collection if you played by those rules.
Anyway, I’ve never regretted it. It brings me great pleasure to have a piece of my friend still in my life. She’d enjoy knowing she is watched over by my most recent acquisition, a watercolor portrait of my little chihuahua Tango, painted larger than life, which is how he sees himself.
Back in the 1980s, I occasionally traded a custom gown for a picture, one of which is still with me. And there’s a nice acrylic by the fireplace that an artist friend traded me for one of my pieces. A deal I have not followed through with on my end. Seeing my friend’s picture every day is a reminder that some day I will have to paint again to fulfill my end of the bargain. Or return the picture. Which is an outcome too painful to consider.
There are a couple of oils I painted in high school when I thought I was going to become the second coming of Matisse. That never happened and those pictures are placed behind lamps and where doors open in front of them. But they’re there and bring the spirit of my youthful optimism with them.
About halfway through the project I remembered there was a stash of pictures in the bottom of the spare room closet, and among them were the pictures that started me down the art-collecting path. They came from the 1973 estate sale of a neighborhood couple of my childhood. The couple had owned a photography studio and one of the lots was a cardboard box marked “picture frames.” The adults swarming over the furniture and collectibles paid it no mind so I was able to score it for only two bucks.
Among its contents was a largish abstract oil by Harold Click, an Elkin artist who was famous locally for his paintings of chickens. It was dated 1958, the year of my birth, and had the original price tag on the back, 20 bucks. That’s probably when the collecting bug bit. That perceived $18 profit got me so excited I didn’t much notice the framed Disney cel in the box that had been bought at Disneyland on a trip to California. With a certificate on its back to prove it.
So mostly my art collection is a 3D scrapbook of my life so far, a Virtual Reality experience packed with emotion, but that little Disney cel in the brown frame over behind the palm tree is different. It means nothing to me but could very likely fund my retirement. Or so I choose to believe.
And if it does, I may revert to a little Larchmont lockjaw of my own when discussing “my art collection” with the nice appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” — and anyone else who says “hoarder” like it’s a bad thing.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.