How to Start Collecting

Liliana Simanton, Laguna Cottages, oil, 20 x 24, $900, California Art Gallery.,painting, southwest art.
Liliana Simanton, Laguna Cottages, oil, 20 x 24, $900, California Art Gallery.

By Gussie Fauntleroy


If you’ve started to build an art collection, you know that the process is not always an easy one. Or maybe you’d like to begin collecting, but you don’t think it’s possible on a limited budget. How can you feel comfortable navigating the sometimes confusing waters of passion, emotion, quality, and value as you set out on a lifelong journey of living with art? We put this question to a number of gallery owners and directors, many of whom are collectors themselves. This is what they said.


Sandy Hunter
California Art Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA

Peggi Kroll-Roberts, Girls on the Beach, oil, 10 x 12, $950, Thomas Reynolds Gallery. ,painting, southwest art.
Peggi Kroll-Roberts, Girls on the Beach, oil, 10 x 12, $950, Thomas Reynolds Gallery.

When new collectors come into her gallery, Sandy Hunter watches their eyes. Where they linger often tells her things prospective buyers can’t put into words—they may be drawn to a certain artist but not know why. After Hunter gathers clues about a client’s tastes and interests, she recommends that they choose the highest-quality piece they can afford by the artist to whom they’re drawn.

But how do you recognize high quality in an artist’s work?

“When I’m looking at a painting, I go through a mental checklist of what I learned in art appreciation classes—composition, color, style, good depth of view, and a center of interest—all these elements make up good design.

Carol Lee Thompson, Tomatillas and Acoma, oil, 8 x 10, $900, Sanders Galleries.,painting, southwest art.
Carol Lee Thompson, Tomatillas and Acoma, oil, 8 x 10, $900, Sanders Galleries.

I know know these things instinctively,” she says. “Still, buying art is very emotional. If you listen only to your head it isn’t going to work. If you listen to your feelings, what’s going on inside, it will work.”


Jim Sanders
Sanders Galleries, Tucson, AZ


Jim Sanders agrees. After 25 years of selling traditional and contemporary southwestern art, he has learned that people have an innate sense of what they like. He’s also heard plenty of

Dirk Walker, Ginger Jar With Horse, oil, 11 x 14, $1,000, Whistle Pik Galleries.,painting, southwest art.
Dirk Walker, Ginger Jar With Horse, oil, 11 x 14, $1,000, Whistle Pik Galleries.

people insist that it’s not possible to find good art for less than $1,000. That’s just not true, he says especially right now. “You can find good work and a range of sizes, too,” Sanders says. “There are so many good artists out there. I think it’s a great time to start collecting.”

Among the artists in his gallery with high-quality work under $1,000 are oil painter Carol Lee Thompson; impressionistic southwestern landscape painter Ron Cheek; watercolorist John Fawcett, who paints traditional western scenes; and realist painter Gayle Nason, whose still-life oils featuring American Indian artifacts are highly admired.

Barbara McKee, Montana Twilight, oil, 6 x 8, $500, Kneeland Gallery.,painting, southwest art.
Barbara McKee, Montana Twilight, oil, 6 x 8, $500, Kneeland Gallery.

Thomas Reynolds
Thomas Reynolds Gallery, San Francisco, CA


One way to find excellent art priced at less than $1,000 is to look at plein-air paintings, suggests Thomas Reynolds. Because they are done on location, such paintings tend to be smaller and must be painted more quickly than studio work. With less time—but just as much talent—invested in them, plein-air paintings are generally less expensive.

Exactly the wrong way to go about starting a collection, Reynolds says, is to hunt for bargains and choose quantity over quality.

Often what seems like a bargain at first ends up under

Will Shuster, Ranchos de Taos [1929], etching, 21⁄2 x 3, $750, Hirsch Fine Art.,painting, southwest art.
Will Shuster, Ranchos de Taos [1929], etching, 21⁄2 x 3, $750, Hirsch Fine Art.

the bed. “Look for an artist who has that extra spark of some kind early on in their career, someone who stands out from the pack. But it’s a fine line, because if they’re too exotically different, they may not be a rising star, they may be the odd man out,” Reynolds says. “The most important thing is to look, and look again, and look some more.”


Tim Taylor
Whistle Pik Galleries, Fredericksburg, TX


As you’re looking, become acquainted as much as possible with the breadth of an artist’s body of work rather than a single piece that

Donald Hildreth, Yearly Event, oil, 9 x 12, $550, Tirage Gallery.,painting, southwest art.
Donald Hildreth, Yearly Event, oil, 9 x 12, $550, Tirage Gallery.

catches your eye. “It’s very possible that an artist does a real zinger, and then it’s three years before they do another good one. That artist probably won’t have a career,” says Tim Taylor, whose gallery features traditional and contemporary art.

Getting to know an artist involves gathering biographical information, including how long and consistently the artist has been working, where the artist shows his or her work, whether the artist has been included in museum or juried shows or garnered awards, and how the price of the work has changed over the years. “We

Russell Chatham, Morning Off Wild Horse Island, lithograph, 16 x 20, $600, Sutton West Gallery.,painting, southwest art.
Russell Chatham, Morning Off Wild Horse Island, lithograph, 16 x 20, $600, Sutton West Gallery.

encourage collectors to attend shows, because all our artists show up at them,” adds Whistle Pik’s sales manager, Aimee Martin. “A lot of our collectors have appreciated getting to know the artist—it endears the artist to you, and buying art is an emotional decision. That’s what art is for, to evoke emotion.”


Kelly Daluiso
Kneeland Gallery, Ketchum, ID


A number of galleries hold annual miniatures shows the one at Kneeland Gallery takes place over Thanksgiving weekend—where beginning collectors can often find affordable work by well-known and established artists. This is also a good way for longtime collectors to find smaller pieces to fill in where large-scale works won’t fit.

Virginia McCallister, Tennis Courts, watercolor, 121⁄2 x 18, $1,200, George Stern Fine Arts ,painting, southwest art.
Virginia McCallister, Tennis Courts, watercolor, 121⁄2 x 18, $1,200, George Stern Fine Arts

One of the biggest mistakes beginning collectors make is buying art that is faddishly popular at the time but will likely lose its value as trends move in new directions, says Kelly Daluiso, who spent four years as Knee-land’s director before leaving this fall to accompany her husband on a career change.


Kevin Casey
Tirage Gallery, Pasadena, CA


At least half of the art in Tirage Gallery, co-owned by Kevin Casey and Karen Hackett, is priced under $1,000.

Beginning collectors can

Robert Hamman, Red Roses, oil, 10 x 8, $950, NanEtte Richardson Fine Art.,painting, southwest art.
Robert Hamman, Red Roses, oil, 10 x 8, $950, NanEtte Richardson Fine Art

see a wide selection of original work, especially paintings by contemporary California impressionists. Among the gallery’s best-selling artists is Donald Hildreth, whose style ranges from controlled realism to loose impressionism. A retired engineer, Hildreth has become well known in Southern California and is highly respected among his fellow artists, Casey says.

Chinese-born W. Jason Situ, a well-known artist and art professor in China before coming to this country in search of artistic freedom, now paints primarily en plein air. And Martha Saudek, who has work in museum collections around the world, is a sought-after plein-air painter known for her depictions of water. The gallery has small Saudek paintings for less than $1,000.

Theodore T. Gall, Fragments, bronze, H101⁄2, $900, Gallery A,painting, southwest art.
Theodore T. Gall, Fragments, bronze, H101⁄2, $900, Gallery A

Jay Rosenbaum
Hirsch Fine Art, Taos, NM


When it comes to buying original artwork by acclaimed, deceased artists, collectors generally must wait until their budget is considerably above the $1,000 mark. In the meantime, however, small hand-printed lithographs and etchings are available and are a good way to start a collection, according to Jay Rosenbaum, whose gallery specializes in works on paper by early southwestern artists. Hirsch Fine Art has limited-edition prints for less than $1,000 by such historic artists as Randall Davey, Peter Hurd, and Joseph Imhof. Also, the gallery often has small, original sketchbook drawings by such artists as E. Irving Couse, one of the founders of the Taos art colony.

Robert Goldman, St. Augustine Church, oil, 151⁄2 x 16, $975, Venture Fine Arts.,painting, southwest art.
Robert Goldman, St. Augustine Church, oil, 151⁄2 x 16, $975, Venture Fine Arts.

The key to good collecting, Rosenbaum says, is thorough research on the artists that interest you. Asking questions is very important in determining that the artist’s career and reputation is solidly established.


Nat Owings
Owings-Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM


Nat Owings agrees that while collectors on a budget may be disappointed to find large paintings beyond their reach, drawings and hand-pulled prints offer the opportunity to own very nice pieces by renowned, deceased artists.

Featuring American 20th-century painting and sculpture as well as some contemporary, western, and modernist work, Owings-Dewey Fine Art represents art in a range of styles and time periods. Taking advantage of this broad visual experience, Owings says, is a helpful part of becoming educated about art by both contemporary and deceased artists. “We’re always looking for the young collector whose collection we can help build,” he says. “We can give them some idea of where they might want to go.”

Geoffrey Sutton
Sutton West Gallery, Missoula, MT


Geoffrey Sutton agrees that limited-edition hand-pulled prints can be a strong part of a collection. Among the most popular artists in his gallery is veteran Montana artist Russell Chatham, whose lithographs, which start at $300, are all hand-printed by the artist. Chatham also hand-draws between 30 and 35 plates to create each image and prints a small run of each lithograph. These works have shown a meteoric rise in value, Sutton says.

On the other hand, Sutton cautions beginning collectors that reproductions don’t have staying power and should not be considered heirlooms. In addition, some new printing methods and materials, though billed as archival, will fade, he says. Above all, Sutton advises buying from a gallery with a solid reputation or with which you have a personal relationship in other words, someone you trust.

George Stern
George Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CA


One temptation for beginning collectors may be to buy signatures that is, to purchase a piece of art solely because it was created by a well-known artist. But George Stern, whose gallery features 19th- and 20th-century American art with an emphasis on early California artists, believes this can be a serious mistake. “I’ve always felt that a really high-quality image by a less well-known artist sells faster than a poor-quality painting by a well-known artist. I’ve seen it happen. The name’s not enough,” Stern says. “Artists are human; they have good days and bad.”

Beginning in November, George Stern Fine Arts holds its Beginning Collectors show, which features high-quality originals priced under $15,000 by early California artists. For those on a more limited budget, Stern believes fine-quality workmanship and a potential for growth can be found in limited-edition lithographs and etchings by these artists.

Christine Serr
Abend Gallery, Denver, CO


Original art is more approachable than many people think, says Christine Serr, a collector herself. And miniatures shows are a good venue for approaching a wide variety of artists and styles, all within a reasonable price range. Abend Gallery’s annual holiday miniatures show in Decem-ber presents some 500 small paintings by 100 area artists.

The biggest fear for beginning collectors, Serr believes, is buying something they are attracted to today but might not like tomorrow. One way to allay that fear is to take advantage of the policy typical of many galleries: buy a piece on approval with the option of bringing it back for return or exchange. “If you take it home and still love it after a few days, it’s probably a good choice,” she says. “It’s a great way to ‘feel out’ a piece.”

Gene and Jules Sanchez
Gallery A, Taos, NM


One thing new collectors need not be concerned about is whether art they purchase matches what they already have or what they may buy in the future, says Jules Sanchez of Gallery A. Eclectic is in, in home design and decorating as well as artistic taste.

“It’s not like when I was growing up and everything had to be Early American,” Sanchez says, laughing. Good thing, because the couple’s taste, as reflected in the work on the walls in the family’s almost 40-year-old gallery, runs the gamut from traditional to abstract contemporary painting and sculpture.

What pulls a collection together is the collector’s individual aesthetic, Sanchez says. “It’s pretty easy to box yourself in and say, for example, that you only like landscapes. So I think the most important thing is to keep your mind open to all kinds of art.”

NanEtte Richardson
NanEtte Richardson Fine Art, San Antonio, TX


Following a similar philosophy, NanEtte Richardson advises “fresh” collectors to look at all types of art in the eclectic diversity of her two San Antonio galleries, as well as other galleries. She also suggests taking a piece home and living with it for a few days be-fore making a final decision. “Sometimes I lose a sale that way, but more often I gain a good customer. These are costly mistakes to make,” she says of imprudent purchases. “The more exposure collectors have to what’s available, the wiser their selection is going to be.”

After years of collecting art herself, beginning when she lived in Spain in the late 1950s, Richardson is certain of one thing: “I would rather have one small jewel,” she says, “than a large, mediocre piece.”

Kathleen Raglund
Shared Visions Gallery, Delray Beach, FL


When it comes to Native American art, the self-education process for collectors takes on added dimensions. In particular, collectors must learn to recognize authenticity and quality in a variety of mediums. Kathleen Raglund, who sells both Native American and western art, suggests using the Internet for access to vast amounts of information in this field.

One interesting option for beginning collectors, especially in the field of Native American art, is to purchase works in unusual mediums. In Raglund’s gallery, for example, are hand-etched gourds with gemstone inlay by Denise Meyers [see page 8] and naturally shed antlers carved into intricate western and wildlife scenes by Lee Harris, both for less than $1,000. “Some of the media that are not considered ‘tested and approved’ are ones that beginning collectors can help be taken more seriously,” Raglund says.

Mark and Christine Banister
Venture Fine Arts, Tucson, AZ


While few would argue that work by female artists is not taken seriously, it still is true, unfortunately, that art by a woman generally sells for less than the equivalent by a man, says Mark Banister. For new collectors, this can mean the opportunity to buy exceptional work at a lower price while helping women artists by increasing the market for their art. Among the works under $1,000 by women in his gallery are superb small oil landscapes by Janice Yow-Hines, who recently returned to creating art after running a painting school for 20 years.

Banister’s other advice is to rely on instinct to walk the fine line between impulse buying and waiting too long. “If you fall in love with a piece but don’t get it, and then you come back and it’s gone, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering why you waited,” he says. “Usually the good pieces don’t last. So if you see one you love, buy it.”

Featured in October 1999