We are not among the 1%, but Carol and I have been collecting art since we got married in 1970. We started small, and in fact continued small, but we have a few pieces we like very much. Our collection is not worth very much, perhaps, but it makes our lives richer and fuller.
We started with prints, and for some reason we bought only artist's proofs for a while. Since I was teaching in liberal arts colleges during the 70s and early 80s, I was able to pick up a couple of prints I really like from fellow faculty members. Perhaps my favorite is called "Noah", and is a brightly colored depiction of the ark and the animals, with a Hebrew inscription. It is quite lovely. I was also able to purchase a mostly black-and-white print called "Icarus", depicting the subject at the peak of flight at the exact moment when the sun (the only colored object in the print) begins to melt the waxen wings. It hangs in my study to this day.
Another print (that we picked up at an art fair in Stratford, Ontario) is by an African artist and is called "Breakfast". It depicts an African woman nursing her newborn, flanked by tribal shields. It moved us both when we saw it, and we had to have it. We also have a few prints dealing with cats, a couple of which are mere kitsch but a couple of which are quite nice.
Our most recent print acquisition is a dyptich that graces our dining room, by the Korean ex-wife of one of Carol's colleagues. Carol loved her work on first sight, and we were pleased she had these available at a reasonable price.
We have only one oil painting, a tiny canvas that we acquired in Springfield, Illinois, at a street fair. We really loved a larger painting by the same artist but could not afford it, so we bought this one as a consolation prize. It hangs in our entryway.
Our largest pieces have pride of place in the living room. The first is a watrcolor we obtained from an art gallery on the square in Charleston that is no longer there. We walked past it almost every day for months, and we both admired it. I finally gave in one day and went inside to place a down payment on it, thinking I would give it to Carol for our anniversary, only to find it had been sold. Imagine my surprise when Carol gave me the self-same painting for my birthday a few days later! Its subject is a ballet dancer unlacing her shoes, obviously exhausted. It speaks to us, even though the technique is flawed and the figure somewhat distorted.
The second piece in the living room is a blatantly commercial ink-jet print of a painting we saw in Ocean City, Oregon, depicting the shiprock that is a local landmark in the fog in the background, with delicately colored flowers in the foreground. It reminds us of the beautiful Oregon coast every time we see it, and for that reason alone was worth the inflated price we paid for the print, framing, and shipping.
The final piece in the living room is by far the most beautiful in the entire collection. It is a chalk drawing of a reclining nude, by one of Carol's colleagues in the Art Department at EIU. The English Department gave it to Carol as her retirement gift (a charming tradition in the Department); we could never have afforded it on our own. We didn't get the actual drawing for some months; the artist asked to borrow it back so she could hang it in a juried show she had been invited to enter. We were of course happy to accommodate her; and she gave us another drawing to hang in its place until we got it back.
Pottery is what we have the most of. Our pieces range from a 4-piece canister set and a wine set (8 goblets and a stoppered pitcher) to a wide variety of vases of various sizes to a huge 3-legged pot that has no earthly use that I can see. In between we have some really lovely boxes and bowls, some of which are by people we know (colleagues and students of Carol's) and some of which are things we picked up at art fairs. They are scattered throughout the house: on top of the kitchen cabinets; on top of the legal bookcases that house our DVDs, VHS tapes, and books on tape; on every imaginable surface of my study; in our spare room; and in our bedroom. I think there is no question that the collection needs pruning, but we love each of the pieces and can't seem to make up our minds what to get rid of.
Even though I run from the association, I grew up in Phoenix, and my step-father still lives there. My mother and step-father collected all manner of junk, and some of it got passed on to us. We do have, though, four Katsinas (formerly called Kachinas) from the Hopi people, and a number of small Navajo rugs, most of which are modern but one or two of which are antique. They are not worth very much, but they remind me of my roots, not altogether a bad thing.
My other odds and ends probably cannot be called art, but I treasure them anyhow. I have my mother's hand-painted miniatures from the Disney movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" from the 40s; my collection of equally small cats, including one made from volcanic ashe from Mount Etna; and the miniature stage coach that graced my parents' mantle in our house (now long gone) on Lynwood Street in Phoenix. Finally, in the place of pride over my desk in my study, are two framed photographs I took myself: our long-lost beloved cats, Muffin and Wart, in our equally beloved first house in Michigan. Carol surprised me with framed prints a number of years ago, and I love seeing them every day I am home.
This list leaves out quite a number of things, including Carol's Christmas ornament collection; her mother's china, silver, and the Wedgwood coffee set that Carol brought her from her semester at Oxford; the nineteenth-century loveseat and chair that came from either a Brooklyn funeral parlor or a Brooklyn house of ill repute, depending on who you talk to; and our dining room table, chairs, and buffet from about 1905 that we picked up for a song at a Toledo, Ohio, estate sale. And we have more books, tapes, DVDs, and CDs than you can shake a stick at.
Enumerated this way, it must seem that we are drowning in art, or at least in kitsch. Quite the contrary: each piece reminds us daily of a moment in time. We've just celebrated our 42nd anniversary, so there are many such moments. More important than the value of the collection (and believe me, it is minimal) is our emotional attachment to it. I suspect that will only grow over time.
We are not art collectors; we simply have things that we love that we have picked up over the years. Each one tells a story. If our house is a little cluttered, so be it. When they carry the last one of us out of here feet first, which is how we plan to go, someone else can clear it up.
I guess I know now why my grandparents' house and my parents' house were so cluttered. They lived full lives. So are we.