catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 23 :: 2007.12.14 — 2007.12.28


Stories on display

Did either of you have a conception of buying original art before you were married or was this a practice you developed together?

KARI: The first time I really thought about the possibility of owning original art, particularly art by people I knew, was shortly after I graduated from college. I was at my friends Scott and Shelly's house. Scott was an art major in college and had some works by him and his friends hanging up. I really liked his stuff and felt that I'd like to own some in the future, when I could afford it.

JAMES: I'd already presumed it would happen eventually, but I needed a certain amount of stability in where I was living. Until we got married I was either in student accommodation, or something closely resembling it, so there wasn't really the appropriate permanence.

KARI: Quite early on in my post-college life I knew I didn't just want generic art of the sort you buy at Bed, Bath and Beyond or Ikea, but until we got married most of what was on my walls was posters and prints, although I did try to be selective and buy unique things, not just Monets and Klimts. I certainly wanted to own original art but didn't feel able to afford more than small things that were often also utilitarian like pottery or bags.

JAMES: And one of the advantages of it being friends' work was that it ended up being cheaper than you might expect as well as being more personal than buying anonymously.

KARI: It also helps when you can trade services for the art, as James did building websites for some friends in return for their work.


What are the stories of some of the original works you own and how do their stories intersect with yours?

JAMES: The first two pieces we bought at the same time, and they're by Todd Greene, a friend from Nashville. Our friends in Nashville have been a very important part of our relationship, and so as well as being by Todd, they're representative of that.

Julie Lee
Found object sculpture by Julie Lee

KARI: The larger of the two was a major thing—we took it to be professionally framed, and the framing cost about as much as we paid for the painting. And it was the focal point of the living room in the first house we bought together. It was serendipitous that it went so well with the decor (done by the person who owned the house before us) and furniture. The smaller one is particularly good as a conversation piece because of the story behind it (“Paw-Paw Sermons”). We end up telling the story to many of our guests, so Todd's story of his grandfather gets carried on.

Our group of friends in Nashville are very important to us. It's through one of them (David Dark) that we first met. We spent our first New Year's Eve together there. And while we were living in Michigan, we tried to get to Nashville every 6-8 months or so. On our frequent trips to Nashville, we'd see Todd's work hanging in our friends Trevor & Jenna's and Sarah & Dave's, and I was always very drawn to it. It was a bonus that it was by someone we knew. So owning our own was very special.

JAMES: We also have pieces by other Nashville artists Julie Lee and Rob Bancroft.


What goes into your decision making process when your considering a work of art to purchase?  Do you look for art to go in certain places in your home or do you tend to consider a work when it finds you?

Shining Light by Rob Bancroft
Shining Light by Rob Bancroft

KARI: Part of it is wanting to own art by particular artists: Todd, Rob, Julie, Adam Wolpa, Erika Jane, Brian Baker, etc. because they're friends and we really like the work they do. There are a number of other friends who are artists whose work we don't yet have but would love to have in the future. Certainly "where would it go" in the house was also a factor as well.

JAMES: Yeah, we were conscious of spaces that were in some sense "open" as it'd be a shame to not have somewhere to put things that we bought, but we’ve also discovered in moving from Grand Rapids, Michigan to London, England, that spaces can also be shaped around the art we have, and finding spaces for our collection was actually one of the most helpful steps in settling into our flat in London. We've been fortunate, or perhaps just very impressionable, that there's been such an overlap between so many friends' aesthetics and our tastes, as style and that hard-to-define connection are very important. But that's all just kind of worked out.

KARI: And then there's a piece by Reb who's an iconic folk artist in Grand Rapids. His work is just everywhere around the town. We bought the piece just before we moved away from Grand Rapids. So while we really like the piece we have aesthetically, it's the reminders it brings that are the real connection with it.


Who in your life has modeled good art buying for you?

JAMES: I think I'd want to step back from "art buying" to think about making original works a part of your home. You can't always be sure that the art in peoples' homes is all bought/owned.

KARI: Yes, and that shows that you don't necessarily have to spend a lot of money. Artists will sometimes loan work or just want it to be seen, so if you have the right space, that can also work. But it's those friends in Nashville, particularly Sarah & Dave and Trevor & Jenna who are probably the most direct inspiration.


Why do you choose to invest money in original artwork?  How do you justify that kind of spending in the face of the many, many other good causes in the world?

KARI: It's partly about a desire to support and encourage artisans.

JAMES: I hope that the way we've bought pieces of art in some way models how commerce can be a positive thing. There's a relational aspect to it, there's a connection that the exchange of money and goods is only a small part of, and that is a very significant aspect of the whole thing. We're lucky to be affluent enough that it doesn't have to be an either/or. We can support a variety of causes as well as helping to provide a livelihood and an outlet for people whose creativity is expressed this way.

KARI: And often it feeds back into itself. Thanks to the relationships we have with the artists we usually know that the money we've paid is being used in turn by them in ways that we'd consider "positive."

JAMES: There is a piece by someone whom I don’t know.

KARI: But even that has a Nashville tie. It was being sold in a gallery where we'd just been to see some work by a guy called Herb Williams who's part of that community and does amazing sculptures with crayons. It just kind of caught our eye. It was different, in the way it used print and painting on particle board. While we really value that most of the work we have came out of personal relationships, we don't want to let that limit us either.

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