Art lover Christine Bullard reflects on nurturing a fine-art collection
By Bonnie Gangelhoff
This story was featured in the October 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art magazine October 2012 print edition here, or purchase the Southwest Art magazine October 2012 digital download here. Or subscribe to Southwest Art magazine and never miss a story!
If someone passing by overheard Christine Bullard talking, he might become a bit concerned. “I’m insane,” she says. “I have an addiction.” But Bullard is talking about her passion for art, of course. She is seated near a wall that runs from the entryway to the living room of her 3,000-square-foot Denver condominium and that is lined with artworks. “They are all my children,” she says of her 172-piece painting and drawing collection.
As she tells the story of how her collection began, she grows emotional; her memories are bittersweet. She and her late husband, Jerry, both worked at the Kent Denver School, a private college-preparatory school. Bullard retired in 2006 as the director of girls’ athletics and assistant director of admissions. Her husband was the business manager and development officer.
The couple shared a love of the Rocky Mountains, and a few years after they married in 1978, they purchased land near Winter Park, CO, planning eventually to build a cabin. The two spent much of their free time hiking and skiing in the area and attending the annual Winter Park Arts Affair. It was at that art festival that they were first drawn to the atmospheric landscapes of Colorado-based painter Karen Vance, which captured some of their favorite mountain haunts. In the early ’80s the Bullards purchased two prints–a summer scene of St. Louis Lake and one depicting the ski slopes of Winter Park. Their collecting took a hiatus in the decade ahead, and then their life came to a major turning point.
In 1988, Jerry was diagnosed with a rare disease called chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, an affliction that makes food intake nearly impossible and has no cure. “Jerry’s ability to travel was compromised, and we decided to put the mountain home on the fast track, so friends and family could come to us,” Bullard says. The mountain house was completed in 1997. For more than a decade after the diagnosis, Bullard says her husband was in and out of hospitals, and the family was in “survival mode.”
But in the summer of 2003, Bullard attended a gallery show featuring paintings by Vance. With the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary on the horizon, she decided to purchase one of Vance’s winter scenes of nearby Berthoud Pass for Jerry, and soon after that she bought him a Christmas present, another painting by Vance that featured a fall scene along their favorite route home from the mountains to Denver. “I wanted to bring our fall “magic carpet ride” to him that year, because he was in the hospital and missed it,” Bullard says.
Jerry Bullard passed away on November 12, twelve days before their anniversary and six weeks before Christmas; he never saw either painting. In the months ahead Bullard made a life-altering decision. Her husband’s life-insurance policy could have allowed her to stop working. But after some serious thought, she decided to continue working and use the funds to build an art collection instead.
One year later, on what would have been the couple’s 26th wedding anniversary, she purchased her fifth artwork by Vance. “Because of the love Jerry and I shared for Karen’s work, this was a means of continuing that love in remembrance of him and a way to remember the beauty of what we enjoyed together in the mountains. We both had such a connection to Karen’s work,” Bullard says. “The paintings really helped me to heal.”
After Bullard acquired a few more Vance paintings, her friend Tom Coblentz, owner of Elk Horn Art Gallery in Winter Park, made a suggestion: “Christine, maybe it’s time to start expanding your collection with other artists.” Soon after, she purchased a landscape by Clive Tyler, and her course was set. Although today Bullard has 14 paintings by Vance, she also has works by 85 other artists, including still-life, wildlife, western, and figurative pieces. Her “million-dollar wall” is a microcosm of her collection, with works by Stacy Peterson, Kim English, Brent Cotton, Michelle Torrez, Judy Greenan, Clive Tyler, T. Allen Lawson, and Robert Lemler.
Nonetheless, Bullard still has a penchant for collecting “deep” when she falls hard for works by a particular artist. In 2005 she discovered Montana-based painter Brent Cotton, who was featured in Southwest Art. She now has 11 paintings by Cotton, who–like Vance–has a moody, ethereal take on the western landscape.
In 2007, Bullard turned another page in her fine-art odyssey. She volunteered to host a reception for artists participating in the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters show in Winter Park. In the following years she worked checking in the art and eventually helping to judge the Collectors’ Choice Award. “Getting to know the artists and seeing them paint really expanded my interest in art,” Bullard says. “By then I was hooked.”
Over the years, Bullard says she has learned a lot about hanging artwork as well as purchasing it. In the dining room of her condominium, she points to a trio of landscapes by Cotton. They are all framed in gold, joining the works together by the use of color and complementing the restful scenes. “The gold was more formal and fit the mood of the dining room,” Bullard says.
Also, for her million-dollar wall, she took the advice of a friend, who said that because the area didn’t receive much natural light, she should use a paint with metallic flecks to help reflect the light from nearby windows. “That wall is between the rooms that have windows, and it needed light,” Bullard says.
The paint for that one wall cost a small fortune, she says, but she has no regrets. She does regret the way she installed the track lighting for this wall, however, and advises collectors to proceed with caution when it comes to lighting. “[The lighting is] too close to the paintings and should have been placed farther back,” Bullard says; it casts a shadow over the top edge of the paintings.
More advice to collectors: Don’t be afraid to move paintings. When Bullard purchases new work, she has to rethink how everything is hung in both her city and mountain homes. “When I move a painting, people always ask me if it is a new one. It’s not, but the painting stands out when it’s in a new place,” she says.
Bullard also experiments with arranging works based on subject matter. In her mountain home, she recently grouped four small paintings that depict old, derelict trucks. Before she hangs a grouping, she lays the pieces out on the floor in front of the wall. There she can arrange and rearrange them to achieve the desired effect before driving nails into the wall.
While Bullard likes to experiment, she also admits having an obsessive-compulsive streak. She has four boxes containing three-ring binders with copious information about every artist whom she collects. There are bills of sale, certificates of authenticity, magazine stories, and advertisements related to the artists. In some cases she also keeps photographs of artists on location and notes from artists about their paintings.
Bullard also keeps a separate list of her artworks, this one arranged alphabetically by artists’ last names. Listed for each piece is the title of the work, cost, shipping costs, framing costs, and cost per square inch. Above the entry for each painting is the name of the friend or family member to whom she plans to leave the painting. The lucky person who inherits a painting from Bullard also inherits a treasure trove of information. “Oftentimes I think people need to be educated,” Bullard says. “I wanted to make sure, before my family members or friends decide to sell a piece, they would have a greater appreciation and keep the painting.”
Bullard has now covered most of her walls, but she hasn’t stopped purchasing art. In fact, she has an alphabetized bucket list of about 70 artists from whom she still wants to purchase. At the recent Oil Painters of America national show at Colorado’s Evergreen Fine Art, she purchased a landscape by Dave Santillanes. So she will change the color of his bucket-list entry from black to red and add the date of purchase. “I think I have found beauty, peace, and comfort with art,” she says. “I have a greater appreciation for mother nature and colors. I used to think snow was white, but snow is a million different shades of gray, yellow, blue, and purple. Now when I look at a scene, I also think about what a great painting it would make.”
Featured in the October 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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