Art in the City: A Collection

Above: the San Antonio living room mixes southwestern landscapes with works by Chinese, Russian, and Mexican artists. southwest art.
Above: the San Antonio living room mixes southwestern landscapes with works by Chinese, Russian, and Mexican artists.

The European-style town home has a sophisticated, old-world ambiance, with 22-foot ceilings, marble floors, and French doors that lead to a secluded patio area. It’s clear the person who lives here has an appreciation for the good things in life, including fine art. Indeed, this San Antonio art collector is an oenophile, opera lover, and world traveler, and she speaks fluent French.

Like many who live in Texas’ big cities these days, she hails from somewhere else. Since arriving in the Lone Star State in the 1960s, she has watched as the cities have grown exponentially Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio (her adopted home town) today are a rich stew of global cultures.

The cultural mix of today’s Texas is reflected in her choice of artworks. Inside her home are works by Anglo, Mexican, Native American, African, European, and Chinese artists all converging on every available wall space and tabletop.

For example, the first thing you notice once seated in the living room is a sensitive portrait of four Chinese children, A Secret Place. The work is by Mian Situ, a California-based painter born in China. The painting is hung over a delicate mahogany table that is sprinkled with small Native American pots created by Les Namingha and Grace Medicine Flower, among others. This portion of the collection demonstrates how disparate artworks from far-flung cultures can form harmonious tableaus and presentations.

Entryway features works by three southwestern artists. Top left is Dusk New Mexico by William Berra. Bottom left is Melting Snow by John Encinias. Walt Gonske s Rio Hondo through Valdez is reflected in the mirror. southwest art.
Entryway features works by three southwestern artists. Top left is Dusk New Mexico by William Berra. Bottom left is Melting Snow by John Encinias. Walt Gonske’s Rio Hondo through Valdez is reflected in the mirror.

Interestingly enough, even though she possesses more than 200 artworks, this San Antonio transplant doesn’t consider herself a collector. “I guess that’s because I don’t have a focus on any one style,” she says. “My collection is eclectic, and I like to mix things like placing my blue Dale Chihuly bowl with a black Maria [Martinez] pot and an African fertility headdress.”

Her passion for collecting began in 1987 with the purchase of two prints by Marc Chagall, the Russian-born painter who lived in Paris. The cubist, dreamlike works appealed to her: “I loved the play of colors and shapes on the canvas and the movement,” she says. Today those prints and other works that she describes as “Chagallesque” blanket one wall of her dining room area representing one theme in a collection that spreads out in several different directions.

The collector’s interests shifted a decade later to original oil paintings by mostly American-based artists. This phase began in 1996 when she purchased Situ’s A Secret Place. She recalls that on a visit to Greenhouse Gallery in San Antonio she initially spotted another work by the artist but hesitated to buy it. When she called the gallery to say she wanted the painting, it was gone. She asked the gallery to call when they received another one and they did. “I took one look at A Secret Place and said, ‘I want it,’ ” she says. “I love the preciseness in the center and the way it becomes looser toward the edges.” Today she owns three other Situ paintings: Offering of Friendship, which hangs in the master bedroom, and Royalty of Wa and Evening Arrives at Mission San Jose, which are in the living room.

Mian Situ s Offering of Friendship graces a bedroom wall. On the side table sits Richard McDonald s Bronze Girl in Red Dress. southwest art.
Mian Situ’s Offering of Friendship graces a bedroom wall. On the side table sits Richard McDonald’s Bronze Girl in Red Dress.

Sparked by her interest in Situ, she has in the past several years developed a fondness for works by Chinese artists, adding to her collection three paintings by Zhang Li. “The quality of their work is so outstanding. Their paintings are like the old masters, very detailed, very careful,” she says. “Their works always transcend the subject matter.”

The Southwest is another prominent theme in her eclectic collection, evolving from a fascination that began with her first visit to Taos, NM, in 1994. “Your taste changes as you become exposed to new things,” she says.

“Every time I have visited Taos I’ve seen the landscapes and sunsets and wanted to bring them back with me to San Antonio,” she says. “And the only way was through art.”

At first she purchased prints by Gene Kloss depicting the Taos area. Next she began coming back to San Antonio with pottery by Native American artists Maria Martinez and Barbara Gonzales in tow. By the end of the ’90s she was returning home with pots by Tammy Garcia and sculpture by Allan Houser. Today Houser’s Young Woman, Number 2 sits on her coffee table near a carved pot by Garcia.

Since she purchased her first original oil painting, the Situ, her collection has mushroomed to include other original works by well-known western landscape painters. Her living room is home to paintings by William Berra, Walt Gonske, John Encinias, Kenn Backhaus, and Michael Stack all depicting scenes, from snowscapes to cloudscapes, mainly in Arizona and New Mexico. She recently added a still-life, Contempla-tion by William Acheff, to her stable.

The Berra, the Gonske, and the western American paintings mix easily in the living room with paintings by the Chinese artists, a Russian artist, an unknown San Antonio artist’s depiction of three birds that she purchased at a flea market, and a painting of Venice, Italy, by another unknown artist—a present from the collector’s mother. They are hung salon style—testimony again that mixing diverse works can form a visually exciting and dramatic whole.

These days the collector is spending her time building a second home in Taos. She, of course, is steadily building a cache of artworks for her retreat. The southwestern art theme continues in her new collection, specifically Spanish Colonial art, including religious art. Ten years ago religious art held no interest for her. But in 1998 she visited the Ranchos de Taos Church in Taos, and the foray generated a new passion that has taken her collection in yet another direction. “I became mesmerized by the big, heavy altar screens,” she says. A recent addition to her San Antonio living room is a Virgin of Guadeloupe made of papier mache, which she purchased at a local import store.

She expects her Taos home to have similar religious pieces, including santos, carved and painted depictions of saints. “I now appreciate religious art for its artistic quality. These pieces allow me to experience the Spanish Colonial heritage in my area of the world,” she says.

A collection that began in European prints by world-renowned painters has now evolved to embrace religious creations by lesser-known regional artists. If you ask this avid art lover if she has any favorites in her collection, she replies no. She likes them all equally. “Each piece has its own uniqueness, and I enjoy each one. I don’t compare artworks—not even ones done by the same artist,” she says. “I simply buy things for the joy they give back to me when I look at them.”

Featured in October 2000