An alcove in the living room features a 60-by-48-inch painting by Stan Natchez (left) and Overexposed, a 70-by-64-inch painting by Fritz Scholder (right).
By Norman Kolpas
Some fine art collectors are guided in their acquisitions by taste alone. Others let a lifetime of learning and study lead them to their choices. A fortunate few, however, enjoy the added benefit of a guide, an inspired person who points them in the right direction, educates them, and exposes them to aesthetic worlds they might otherwise never have imagined.
Such has been the fortune of Burt Horwitch. A man of exquisite good taste, a man who has studied volumes about the artworks he has collected, he enjoyed as his guide a woman who became a legend in the art world of the American Southwest: his sister-in-law Elaine Horwitch. A pioneering dealer, she began buying and selling artworks out of her station wagon some three decades ago, opened galleries bearing her name in Scottsdale, AZ, and Santa Fe, NM, in the early and mid-1970s, championed some of the most outstanding regional artists of our era, and died an unexpected death in 1991 at the age of 58.
Hanging above the sofa in the living room is an untitled mixed-media work by Dick Jemison measuring 48 by 66 inches. Also visible to the right is Harry Sakyesva’s Hopi Dancer, watercolor, 72 x 48, which hangs opposite the entrance to the den.
“Elaine was one of the most special people in the whole world,” says Burt Horwitch, his voice overflowing with warmth at the mention of his late sister-in-law. “She was sort of like a guru, a visionary in the world of southwestern art, and over the years she led me into that world.”
The results of that journey of discovery are brilliantly on view in the high-rise condominium apartment Horwitch and his wife Roberta live in on the west side of Los Angeles. Recently, the collection has come into even sharper focus thanks to the talent of interior designer Nick Walker, owner of Nicholas Walker & Associates in Los Angeles. “I took a space that was done in heavy, dark wood,” says Walker, “and created a whole new look with creamy ivory linen as a neutral background, like a gallery setting, for the art.”
Touring this comfortably contemporary live-in gallery with Burt Horwitch, one sees with every step how effective Walker’s efforts have been. Each artwork feels as if it had been expressly created to be displayed in the very spot in which it is seen, instantly and effortlessly engaging the imagination of homeowner and visitor alike. Even more striking, however, is the sense one gets that Elaine Horwitch’s spirit is never far away, still offering keen guidance that ensures each artist’s efforts are fully appreciated.
More than 20 kachinas are displayed on glass shelves in a cabinet in the den.
Take the living room, for example. Above the sofa is a bold mixed-media work by Dick Jemison, an artist of Seneca tribal heritage. With its interplay of bright colors, scribbled geometric forms, tentlike triangles and human hand print, it brings to mind both Plains ledger drawings and images left on rocks by prehistoric painters. “I was with Elaine when I first saw a piece almost twice its size in the lobby of El Dorado Hotel in Santa Fe,” Horwitch says. “I said to her, ‘Who did this? It’s just spectacular.’” Soon, Elaine had arranged to commission from Jemison a similar work just for Burt.
Across the room, sharing an alcove with a canvas by Shoshoni/ Paiute painter Stan Natchez, is another painting that typifies the wise and imaginative guidance Elaine Horwitch provided to her brother-in-law. Ironically entitled Overexposed, the stunning orange, white, red, and mauve canvas depicting Pueblo tribal dancers is by renowned painter Fritz Scholder. Noted for his wry visual commentary on Indian themes, Scholder and his works were first introduced to Burt by Elaine some two decades ago. “She showed me some of his works in her gallery, including this
On view in the master bedroom are Dusted Mimbre Place, 48 x 36 (left), and Mimbre Place, 48 x 32 (right), both mixed-media works by James Havard.
painting, and said to me, ‘Look. You like these? Live with them and see.’” Ultimately, Burt found that this Scholder and another titled Indian Portrait now on display in his master sitting room [see page 8] were works he simply could not live without.
Visible from the living room, another irresistible painting lures visitors to one of the most extraordinary aspects of Burt Horwitch’s collection. Entitled Hopi Dancer, the almost life-size image by Hopi watercolorist and kachina carver Harry Sakyesva hangs on a wall facing the entrance to the den. “It was so perfect there, we just couldn’t think of hanging it anywhere else,” says Nick Walker.
The Sakyesva watercolor provides a perfect prelude to more than two dozen kachina dolls Burt acquired over the years with Elaine’s guidance. His interest in the traditional Hopi embodiments of natural spirits was first kindled in her Santa Fe kitchen one Thanksgiving weekend long ago. “She had a wall full of kachinas, and I looked at them and said to her, ‘God, they’re gorgeous.’ And she said to me, ‘They’re very old, and if you keep looking at them long enough, they will take on a life of their own for you.’”
Opposite the kachinas in the den are eight Yei Navajo Dancers, each 91⁄2 inches tall, as well as two cast-paper works by Randy Lee White: Lance, 14 x 52 (left), and Excellent, 42 x 63 (right).
To display the kachinas at their most lifelike, Walker arrayed them on heavy-duty glass shelves behind alder-framed glass cabinet doors. Above are recessed halogen spotlights that show off the kachinas’ colors at their most vibrant. “As we placed and grouped them,” Walker says, “we ended up putting the larger ones on the lower shelves and the smaller ones up higher where the light could wash around them and still illuminate those below.” Sharing the den and entirely compatible with the kachinas are an extraordinary arrangement of eight Yei Navajo dancers, encased in plexiglas on a table custom-made by Walker; and two highly realistic cast-paper images of a tribal lance and shirt by Randy Lee White, an artist of South Dakota Lower Brule Sioux heritage.
Burt and Roberta Horwitch have reserved two of their favorite pieces for the master bedroom: Mimbre Place and Dusted Mimbre Place, created in the late 1980s by James Havard. Burt, however, did not react at all positively to the two mixed-media canvases when Elaine first steered him toward them at a show in her Santa Fe gallery. “I said to her, ‘What a mixed-up mess these are,’” he remembers with a chuckle. “And then she pointed out to me their three-dimensional elements, like a hanger and a cup and saucer. And I said to myself, ‘How in the world did he put this together? It’s incredible!’ So Elaine introduced me to him, and he explained his technique to me and became a friend.”
Forging such personal relationships was one of Elaine Horwitch’s greatest gifts. “Every time I was in her home or at her gallery, there was something or someone else new or exciting,” Burt recalls. Take, for another example, the late Dick Mason, a Santa Fe artist who painted photorealistic images of Dalmatians in southwestern landscapes. “Elaine was incredibly close to him, and he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Burt says. “He was in the gallery one day, late in the afternoon, towards the end of one of his shows there, and he suddenly said to me, ‘Burt, there’s a piece I’d really like you to look at.’ He pulled out a painting and it was absolutely alive. I said, ‘Elaine, send this to me.’” Today the work hangs in the kitchen, where Burt and Roberta can admire it every morning soon after they awaken.
In such ways, Burt Horwitch, with the help of designer Nick Walker, has not merely surrounded himself with his art collection. He actively lives with it, enriching his daily life with every glance. “That’s what my art does for me,” he says. “It makes me feel good.”
And he has no trouble translating that simple yet profound philosophy into advice for other collectors. “You shouldn’t buy art because it’s the fashionable thing to do,” he says. “Thanks to my late sister-in-law, I developed a genuine interest in the world of Indian art and artifacts. Take the time to explore the world of art and find out where your own interests are. Once you find an interest line, follow it. Follow the things that make you feel good and see where they lead you. Look what happened to me.”
Photos courtesy Nicholas Walker & Associates, Los Angeles, CA.
Featured in August 1999