Which is it?
1. Collecting is a symptom of mental or emotional instability?
2. Collecting is a form of creativity?
4. Something else entirely?
How ill or how creative are those of us who collect stuff? At what
point do we become diagnosed as clinical hoarders? Are we there
Many youngsters are enrapt by their newly discovered world of objects,
fascinated by never before seen shapes and sights, colors, textures,
arrangements, odors and sounds. They learn and test, observe and
absorb, touch and integrate. For many, those early formative experiences
remain in their brains, sometimes buried under layers of oncoming
experiences, disappointments, adult expectations, embarrassments
and things forbidden. It seems to me that both the process of creating
objects and collecting them are means for us to better learn and
know about our material and immaterial world, and that our conscious
and unconscious selves feed and direct that which we express and
that which we gather as adults.
Our childhood, the experiences, the learning, feelings and early
formative thoughts, suggest to me to be the source of intuitions
and gut reactions. There is unconscious learning and direction that
goes on, as well as genetic dispositions that we barely understand.
As adults we often, perhaps much too often, cover up the characteristics
that made us open, sponge like, fresh, vital and creative.
I am often reminded of this quote from the novel, Boy’s Life
by Robert R. McGammon:
“See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic.
We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us.
We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our
destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right
out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, and combed
out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible.
Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake.”
There are cultures and subcultures that will run the extremes, either
encouraging the acquisition of objects and extolling those who collect,
and the opposite cultures in which amassing material goods is frowned
upon. Whatever the case, it has always been true that today’s
historical record of former and remote material worlds is the result
of objects which were rescued from oblivion by persons of various
intentions and means. Museums are filled with objects gathered by
the astute collectors and hoarders who had the ability and opportunity
to acquire, for whatever their individual good or bad reasons.
“Art collecting becomes an expression of self…It’s
a form of self-portraiture.” said Allan Schwartzman, an art
adviser who helped create the notable Rachofsky House in Dallas
and the Inhotim Center for Contemporary Art in a Brazilian forest.
(See the New York Times online article, "Welcome to the Museum
of My Stuff", Feb. 18. 2007 by Carol Kino.)
I have given up trying to analyze my own reasons for collecting,
though if pressed I might have something to say that could make
sense. I only know that like so many others throughout history and
across cultures, objects have been a source of fascination, learning
and delight. It so happens that three dimensional art objects confront
and engage me as a fellow physical presence on Earth. They are full
round, in the flesh, not created to fool one into believing they
are 3D objects on a 2D ground. They have bulk, weight, material
substance, and the invisible force of gravity weighs them down like
it does my body. Sculpture usually gets my attention first.
In fact, as a sculptor myself, I have found my response to found
three dimensional objects of extreme importance. I do not want to
mimic them, copy them, or learn from them by merely drawing or painting
reproductions of them. I am only aesthetically satisfied when I
can lift, touch, and actually employ them in arrangements, in association
with one another as assemblages. Their evolved conditions and realities
are more revealing to me than paintings of them. My years spent
as an antique dealer was a result of interest in objects, not because
I loved business, and collecting sculpture is an extension of that
potentially compulsive interest in tangible artifacts.
Because my range of travel and spending money has been limited throughout
my life, I have tended to acquire art that is within my personal
geographic and monetary reach. This means that art which I encounter
in Wisconsin is the sort I acquire from time to time. That in turn
suggests that most of the artists in my collection are from Wisconsin.
In terms of numbers, there are over 120 sculptures in and around
my small home. Outside there are a few large corten steel geometric
forms, and inside there are small sculptures of ceramic, metal,
wood and plastic. When I sit in my living room easy chair, I am
entirely embraced by 3D objects, and by the artists who gave their
energies and ideas so these sculptures could emerge from their fertile
brains and skilled hands.
Hanging directly down from the ceiling above these sculptures are
a few large paintings that will not fit on my crowded walls. From
up there a Maxime Banks nude, early Jerome Krause mystical woodland
and a Janet Roberts gestural landscape look downward. Two large
paintings, one by Terry Coffman, another by Kenn Kwint, cover the
better part of two walls, and elsewhere paintings cover most wall
space, nooks and crannies. I look about and see the sculptural work
of John Balsley, Estherly Allen, Bob Curtis, Gene Galazan, Rudy
Rotter, Robert Hurdlebrink, O.V. Shafer, Hilary Goldblatt, Kent
Ipsen, Bruce Niemi, Tom Eddington, Albert Zahn, Josie Osbourne,
Tom Lidtke, James LaMalfa, Gerhard Kroll…and many more you
will not likely know.
These are names that many Wisconsin art collectors will not be familiar
with for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of documentation
of Wisconsin sculptors, to the fact that some have passed away,
perhaps moved out of state and/or have not found or chosen opportunities
to exhibit. Then there is the possibility that sculpture is more
ignored than painting.
I have gathered my humble collection from several sources, including
resale and antique shops, auctions, and many directly from artists
or their dealers. The most fun arrives when a desirable sculpture
appears in a resale shop and I manage to have the good timing to
find it, hopefully undervalued. Some few pieces have arrived thru
direct trades with artists, but practically none as gifts. I would
be uncomfortable if I could not reward the artist with some form
of compensation, though I admit to being selfishly pleased when
a piece turns up on the second hand market very inexpensively.
I’ll mention a few instances when I have found inexpensive
personal treasures to add to my collection. One multiple find was
a group of small sculptures by a little known sculptor from West
Allis, Joseph Puccetti. Some of you have seen his large metal Family
Group in front of the West Allis City Hall on Mitchell St. Years
ago someone in his family decided to sell many of his small hand
made one of a kind figural sculptures thru a resale shop. Over the
course of a week I returned to purchase all of them. Then there
were the Robert Hurdlebrink sculptures that had for a few decades
been in the hands of artist/gallerist, Charles Dix, always not for
sale. I happened to walk in just at the time he decided to sell
them. Hurdlebrink was a highly respected sculptor from Milwaukee
who died an early death, and who is sadly hardly known today. There
are other personal small success stories, like the chance finding
of a wooden weathervane made by the mythical creator of Bird Park
in Bailey’s Harbor, Albert Zahn. While he did not sign his
work, his designs and methods were uniquely his. I happened to recognize
it, and took it to his now elderly grandson who confirmed it was
indeed made by his grandfather.
The limits to collectors are not unlike those imposed on producing
artists. These limits include money, space and time…and of
course, talent and skill. Few of us will have the funding to acquire
all we really would like, nor do we have space to display and store
it all. (For example, I am not in a position to add on to my two
bedroom 1950’s home in order to exhibit an expanding collection.)
So many of us must make do with what is affordable and with what
we can fit into our physical space. It may be that we will eventually
reach the end of our collecting as a result of dwindling room for
display and storage, and it may be that I have personally come close
to that point.
One bothersome aspect of collecting that occurs to me often is due
to this collection being cloistered away and unavailable for others
to see and enjoy. While I can benefit from seeing these things every
day, the works and the artists themselves receive no more recognition
once the pieces settle into my space. I would love to share, for
selfish and unselfish reasons, these works with a broader public.
It seems to me that the artists who made them, who I know to be
talented, should be more acknowledged, appreciated and exhibited.
In one small way I have found a partial solution to that concern.
The Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend will be exhibiting part
of my Wisconsin sculpture collection in September of 07. This is
due to the museum’s commitment to and understanding of our
regional art culture, and to the quality artists who reside here.
Getting some of these pieces out on display from my collection will
be a small and temporary fix to my concerns about hoarding away
art work that should be seen by many. I will selfishly gain some
personal exposure thru this exhibit, but so will many of the artists
whose works sit here in my small home. Instead of just one pair
of eyes to enjoy them, perhaps the museum can reach some hundreds
The conclusion to my collecting will someday arrive, probably not
willingly and probably unexpectedly. Due to a physical inability
to deal with the collection, or personal disability preventing me
from doing so, the sculptures and paintings will pass on to my children,
to friends, strangers or museums.
After all is said and done, we are mere caretakers and then only
for a brief while. That is something very important to remember
when dealing with art, our culture, our children, and the Earth.
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