Local art collectors reveal what drives them to collect
Stories behind 4 collections of Routt County residents
April 3, 2016
Steamboat Springs — Linda Laughlin, executive director of the Steamboat Center for Visual Arts, remembers buying her first piece of art.
It was 1972 when she purchased the Japanese woodcut that cost her almost half of her semester book allowance. She was a freshman in college studying art history.
"When someone buys their first piece of art, they are going to remember it for the rest of their life," Laughlin said.
That piece remains in her home today, one of many within her collection from all over the world. Each has a story, and collectively, they provide a timeline of her life.
"For me having art in the house is the same as having food in the refrigerator," Laughlin said. "Art defines my living space and creates an environment that is a reflection of who someone is."
Recommended Stories For You
There's a surplus of art in the 21st century, making the hobby of collecting a feat that some may openly welcome while others balk at the mere idea of spending upwards of $100,000 or more on just one piece.
While it may be hard to fathom a piece in Steamboat Springs selling for that price, there has been a surplus of artists, galleries, art events like the All Arts Festival and artwork shown here in Steamboat Springs in recent years. Not only is it apparent the pieces found around town, it's in the private collections of those who call Steamboat Springs home.
"I think the arts community has grown in Steamboat more in the last five to 10 years than it has in the previous 50 years," said Jim Cook, longtime realtor who was the founder and owner of Colorado Group Realty and now works at Ski Town Commercial, is a founding board member of Main Street Steamboat and an active member in the arts community as a former board member of the Steamboat Arts Council and Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.
But beyond the prestige of owning a work from the likes of Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock, what is it that compels one to cross that threshold to buy a piece of artwork? Why are some motivated to possess a piece while others are comfortable with merely viewing it in a gallery?
"Art collecting, is just a very personal thing," Laughlin said. "The key, above everything else, for what motivates people to like a piece of art is if it speaks to them in some way. Some art won't hold your attention for very long, because it's already said what it's going to say."
Gary and Jane Wilner
Why they collect: A love for the arts and a source of inspiration
"We have always enjoyed the arts," Gary Wilner said. "Collecting opened a world of friendships with artists, gallerists and other collectors, together with the opportunity to share our love with others."
This midwestern couple has a collection that is an exposé of their eclectic taste, with contemporary pieces that are globally influenced, culturally diverse and challenge traditional boundaries. A few of the pieces are from some of the most popular contemporary artists in the industry today.
Yvves Klein's work can be found in the Wilner's collection in the form of an Artware edition. Klein, is a French artist known for his contemporary experimentalism from methods made with "living brushes" or using a series of varied surfaces from different rollers or sponges. The plexiglass table the Wilners have was designed by Klein with the International Klein Blue pigment and is a controlled edition with few of its kind produced by Klein's estate each year.
One of Jane Wilner's favorite pieces, she said, is a large-scale portrait of American composer, Philip Glass by Chuck Close that seems like an optical illusion. Wilner said he created the work in a calculated, systematic manner that was done with a photograph and overlaid with a penciled grid, that separated the image into squares and were then transported on the handmade paper.
Another popular artist represented in the Wilner's collections is Jeff Koons, an American artist known for his pop culture-inspired work and recognized by his sculptures like the balloon dogs made with stainless steel and a mirror-finish surface. His work is highly sought after and has been sold at auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's.
Although Jane Wilner has always been one to follow creative endeavors like painting, sculpting or bead work, the Wilners didn't start collecting until, 1984. Through a serendipitous event, the two were diverted to New York on a trip to the Virgin Islands after a hurricane closed the airport.
It was there, in New York City that they walked through a gallery show featuring contemporary artist Oscar Lakeman and bought one of his originals, the first piece in their collection. Gary Wilner said the show was Lakeman's first and the gallery sold every piece of his work that night.
"Most of the time, we buy a piece without knowing what we are going to do with it," Gary Wilner said. "But we know most of the artists and have become friends with them."
"It just speaks to me, I am very opinionated," Jane Wilner added. "I either love it or generally hate it. But I like to know the history and the sequence of the artist's work. Artists change a lot, so I like to see what they have done before and how they got to where they are now."
The Wilners said they frequent the Fist Friday Artwalk event to discover new artists such as Gregory Block, a local artist known for his captivating style within the realm of contemporary realism. They also have discovered a number of artists at galleries and museums around the nation, especially in Chicago, and at fundraisers and auctions.
"It helps with creativity, seeing the artwork on the walls every day," Gary Wilner said. "There are stories with every piece."
Other artists in the collection include Sandy Skoglud, an American photographer and installation artist known for creating surrealist images by building elaborate installations; Chuck Walker a Chicago artist who created the piece in the Wilner's collection titled, "Angola/ Angola" and British painter Jason Martin, known for his gestural, monochrome paintings on aluminum backgrounds that look three-dimensional.
"We do this because we love it and choose whatever speaks to us," Mrs. Wilner said. "To me, it's not only what the image actually is but the simple lines and the abstraction of it even though it may be a picture of a place."
Why he collects: as a reflection of where life takes him
"To me, art brings alive experiences, thoughts and feelings," Meyer said. "It reminds us of some things and inspires us toward further experiences."
After moving into a contemporary design home in Steamboat Springs, Meyer's architect, Katie Kiefer, with West Elevation Architects, provided an introduction to other local collectors. Inspired by their acquisition of works, as well as reading material on 20th century and modern artists work and methodology, Meyer's own collection from took off.
"Part of the design process when starting a collection is to have conversations with people about what aspects of a piece do they like," Kiefer said. "It could be the lines, colors, the subject matter, a the memory of a place they used to live that comes back, or an abstract piece that is different every time you look at it and could be representational and transport you to another time or place."
Kiefer knows where to look and has an extensive list of artists and their works to show for it. Traveling nationally and internationally, she views more than 50,000 pieces each year. For Meyer, she said, his collection has grown from smaller, more representational work to larger, more abstract pieces.
From Ikat woven textiles from Bali and India to carpets from Southwest Asia hung on the wall, Meyer is drawn to work with images of picturesque peaks that bring back the culture and memories of each trip.
Local artists in his collection include Susan Oehme, Diane Cionni and Brian Leach who spent three months creating an inlaid piece that was hand etched, then burnt into the cherry wood door separating the master bedroom and bathroom.
"Drive," by Dietmar Lutz, measuring 4 feet by 10 feet, is among Meyer's favorite pieces. The feeling evoked from the European perspective piece, he said, evokes a feeling of movement in a vehicle as America's landscape rolls by a barren desert.
Another of Meyer's favorites is a piece by Jeffrey Keith, a well-known Denver artist and art professor at Denver University whose strength, Meyer said, is found in the use of colors and unique color transitions.
Other artists in his collection include Laura Wait, Sandra Dawson, Diane Cionni, Ken Buhler an outdoor sculpture by David Haradin from his kinetic fish series.
"Finding art for clients really has to do with what they like," Kiefer said. "Everyone is so different, but my job is to get inside their head to find out what it is that brings them joy so that what they have on their walls will be a source of that."
Dr. David and Karen Street
Why they collect: Nogalstia
Dr. David and Karen Street take comfort in the images that bring back memories of meandering hikes and adventures from growing up in Bozeman, Montana.
More than 50 years ago, they found their first piece in Sedona, Arizona. It was titled "The Water Pocket," by artist Michael McCarthy.
"We bought it because we loved the piece," Karen Street said. "It wasn't because we were thinking about creating a collection. But we loved the art itself. For a lot of the pieces we've bought over the years, the image brings back memories of certain places we've lived in Montana or in the southwest or struck a chord within us."
A few years ago, the Streets became concerned about the eventual fate of their collection and had hopes to keep it intact for the future. Near the completion of Casey's Pond Senior Living in 2013, they made the decision to donate the collection with 125 pieces including three-dimensional art to decorate the walls of the entire building.
"It was a dream come true through a serendipitous happenstance to keep the collection intact and be able to view the work while we are living here," David Street said.
Artists in the collection include Robert Abbett, one of America’s contemporary art masters in the genre of outdoor art, Tom DeDecker, known for painting western landscapes and scenes of Native American life and customs; Russ Vickers, Ted Feeley, known contemporary western and wildlife scenes and sculptures by Jim Dolan, a renown metal wildlife sculpture artist with a life-sized flight of geese sculpture at the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver.
"Drifting by," by Lanny Grant, is a piece that captures the grandeur of the mountain, which David Street said was their playground growing up in Montana. In 2002, Grant was commissioned to create a painting of Mount of the Holy Cross to commemorate the 1993 visit to Colorado by Pope John Paul II. The painting is now part of the permanent art collection at the Vatican in Rome.
Lee Stroncek, a well-known landscape artist who is in the permanent collection of the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, is an artist the Streets are fond of. They have the most pieces from this artist including a commissioned piece, inspired by Fish Creek Falls, that hangs in the entry of Casey's Pond.
Another notable artist of the west featured in their collection is Curt Walters, for his piece "Aspen Road." Walters is known as a plein-air impressionist praised by Art of the West magazine in 1997 and recognized worldwide as the greatest living Grand Canyon artist.
The most valued piece in the Street's collection is by Martin Grelle titled, "Cowboy Heaven."
Grelle is known as the "Cowboy artist of America" who paints western inspired scenes, from dramatic Native American settings to cowboys in dusty cattle-working pens. In 1935, he was elected to the Cowboy Artists of America and has acquired a number of prestigious awards.
"Every time we look at a painting, it brings back memories," said David Street. "Each one has a story of its own."
Why he collects: Something in the piece continues to drawn him in
Art, to local architect Jim Cook, takes on many different forms. Cook is known as an active member in Steamboat's arts scene. He became interested in collecting while he was living in Indiana after a business partner brought in a pencil drawing by a Swedish artist, Paul Claes.
"I asked, 'What do you have there,' and he told me about how he just bought this artist's pencil drawings for a deal of $450," Cook said. "That was 35 years ago, and I thought he was nuts for spending that much on art. Now, it's easily worth more than $200,000. But why I wanted to collect wasn't for the value."
Never purchasing a piece for just a name or prestige, Cook said everything he and his late wife collected, are pieces that have resonated with them in some way.
"I collect my art because something in the piece has drawn me to it," he said. "Even with the art that is done by friends, there was something in each piece that made me or my family connect with it."
In his office, Cook notes a piece titled, "The Writer," created by friend, Doug Kinsey, who was dean of the University of Notre Dame Arts School
"What struck me with this painting was the brightness of the colors and the intensity of the gentleman looking down at what he was writing," Cook said. "I used to have it in my office in Indiana early on in the real estate business. Before there were computers, contracts were written on carbon paper, and at the bottom of the page, it said, "Bear down hard, you are writing on two or three pages." Which is what I renamed the painting."
Through the years, Cook said his tastes in art have gone from traditional to more abstract.
One of his most memorable pieces is a Rembrandt etching that was given to his wife by their neighbor, who was married to one of the last living members of the Studebaker family of the Studebaker Corporation automobile company. The Studebakers went to a honeymoon in Brussels after their marriage in 1915, and while they were there bought a complete portfolio of about 100 Rembrandt etchings.
Prior to moving to Colorado, Cook's late wife went to tea with the neighbor, and Mrs. Studebaker told her to take which one of the etching she wanted.
"They were never framed and still in the original binder," Cook said. "She chose a Rembrandt self portrait, and when you turned it on its side, it was a portrait of an old lady in a shawl. It was one of the most valuable pieces we ever had."
Another memorable piece — an unusual composition for Cook's taste — was found at a garage sale.
"It was not my kind of art at all," he said. "It's estimated to have been done in the late 1800s and it's an oil painting of two horses with their heads coming out a stable door with a dove that is off to the side. There was just something that struck me about it because the two horses seemed like they were in love."
During his time on the board of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, Cook remembers the image of the painting coming to life after he saw two dapple horses in the stables with their heads positioned similar to the horses in the painting. He gave the painting to Perry-Mansfield and it now hangs in the main office.
He has also collected work from local artists, including Jean Perry, whose work has evolved from abstract to more traditional impressionism. Perry is known as a signature member of the Plein-Air Painters of America and is a signature member of the Oil Painters of America and she has acquired numerous awards for her work.
"I think that there are a lot of people out there who collect art because of its value or because it works with their house and furnishings," Cook said. "But I think art takes on all different forms, the quality of our buildings and how we develop our parks. Everything is art."