A large Ed Sandoval landscape (right) graces the great room in the home of Will Sibbald and Leland Brown
By Rose Fredrick
Collectors Will Sibbald and Leland Brown have an interesting Christmas gift-giving tradition. “Let me explain,” says Brown with a smile. “If I like something and he doesn’t like it, and it looks like we’re not agreeing on it so we won’t get it, he gets it for Christmas.” “But, I don’t do that,” Sibbald interjects, also laughing. Brown responds, “Oh, yes you do!”
Luckily, there isn’t much they don’t agree on when it comes to art purchases, and they say that neither one’s ego is so sensitive that they both have to be in on every single decision. The result of more than 30 years of collecting is two homes full of an eclectic body of art that’s as diverse as their past and the places they’ve lived.
The two met in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1975, and the Quarter helped encourage their desire to build a collection. “We used to hang out with a lot of artists and gallery owners, so it was easy to develop an interest quickly,” Brown explains.
When they met, they were both working odd jobs in bars, restaurants, and galleries. Collecting became a shared pursuit even when they had to scramble to find a way to purchase what they loved. “We would go in to view shows before the crowds and buy early,” says Sibbald. “And gallery owners let us make payments.”
Five years later, while working in a gallery, Sibbald was hired away by favorite clients to work in their software company, copying floppy discs. It was monotonous work. When he noticed the software developers dictating user information to a person who took shorthand, then typed up a manual, he proposed instead that they have him write them a user manual on a word processor. With the completed manual and his résumé in hand, Sibbald approached Microsoft for a job. “I don’t have a computer science degree,” he says. “I have a dual degree in English and philosophy, which, it turns out, is the perfect combination for writing about computers.” Microsoft thought so, too, hiring him as a tech writer.
Brown, who was working at the time for troubled Pan American Airlines, moved to Seattle with him and took a job with a prominent marketing and consulting firm.
But before they left New Orleans, they made one purchase in particular that would ultimately steer their lives to Colorado. “You don’t get any flatter than New Orleans,” says Brown, “so for vacation we would go to the Smokies, Ozarks, or the Canadian Rockies. We always talked about buying a property in the mountains for when we retired. One day Will happened to read an ad in USA Today about the Wet Mountain Valley and the Sangre de Cristos, so we decided to take a long weekend and fly out. We bought 35 acres on the second day we were here.”
Sibbald became the manager of Microsoft’s writers and editors, as well as a shareholder. He also joined the fledgling art committee to help select paintings and sculpture for the company. He eventually wound up overseeing the group that would make many incredible acquisitions. The position put Sibbald in touch with Seattle’s gallery owners and artists. “I thought buying for Microsoft would have slowed us down,” he says, “but it didn’t. It only made us find more work we wanted to own.”
One evening, after a decade in Seattle, the couple stood on a corner in the tony Pikes Market district, at a crossroads once again. Brown had recently decided to retire, and he vividly recalls turning to Sibbald and asking, “Why don’t you retire, too?” After checking their financial situation, they realized that they could easily do just that and build in Colorado, as well as buy a place in a beachfront community they liked—Bay St. Louis, MS…
Featured in October 2007
Find the rest of this exciting article and more
by subscribing to Southwest Art magazine.