The living room in Sarah Barber and Gloria Donadello’s home features works by Edith Teitelbaum, Okada, Mary Ristow, and Carol Anthony.
By Dottie Indyke
Growing up in New York City, Sarah Barber could always count on art and baseball uniforms as presents from her parents. The only child of the late sports commentator Red Barber and his wife Lylah, Barber’s home was filled not only with talk of baseball and football but also with beautiful music, fine food, paintings, and sculpture.
Meanwhile, across town, a young Gloria Donadello was developing similar tastes for art and music by following the example of her Italian-born parents—proud owners of the first Victrola in their neighborhood. Donadello’s father, Attilio, never missed a performance at the Metropolitan Opera, where he might have crossed paths with Red Barber, a frequent standing-room-only patron.
These childhood influences merge in Barber and Donadello’s eclectic and personal art collection, which dates back more than 50 years. It reflects the women’s passion for culture, place, and family through pieces referencing Italy and opera, sports and literature.
A corner in the television room showcases two photographs of an adobe wall by Barbara Van Cleve.
Perhaps the most strikingly apropos of all their artwork is a piece by Betsy Bauer, a Santa Fe artist who paints botanical forms on old Italian opera librettos. “We were looking at Betsy’s work in a gallery one day, and she just happened to walk in,” Barber remembers of their first encounter with the artist. “Immediately she and Gloria started speaking in Italian.”
Such intimate connections are common in Barber and Donadello’s collection—another aspect of collecting that Barber learned from her parents. For years, they purchased abstract paintings by a New York artist and friend of the family named Harry Crowley. Through watching this exchange, Barber discovered not only the language and significance of art but also the value of a relationship with the artist.
learned from her parents. For years, they purchased abstract paintings by a New York artist and friend of the family named Harry Crowley. Through watching this exchange, Barber discovered not only the language and significance of art but also the value of a relationship with the artist.
“There are only a few pieces in our house by artists we don’t know,” she says. “Knowing the person who created the piece adds a layer of appreciation. The pleasure we get from buying comes, in part, because the artist gets pleasure.”
Hanging above a bookshelf in the television room is an early print of an Italian landscape; to the left is a print by Sandra Ortiz Taylor.
The walls of their warm, spacious home in Santa Fe, with its spectacular views of desert and mountains, are a testament to their friendships with contemporary New Mexico artists such as Carol Mothner, Daniel Morper, Sheila Keefe, Mary Ristow, Joan Watts, Barbara Zusman, John Fincher, and Barbara Van Cleve.
In particular, their close relationship with Carol Anthony is evident in the numerous boxes, drawings, and paintings by the Santa Fe artist that decorate their house. Hanging in the kitchen is a charming tin baking pan Anthony painted as a present for Donadello’s 70th birthday; in the hall hangs the artist’s whimsical sketch of a dog. A mixed-media work of two women walking down a path is in the living room. Barber created its title, The Road Taken and That Made All the Difference, with some help from the familiar Robert Frost poem.
“In general, we’ve bought the work of women,” Donadello says. “There’s an immediate emotional thing that happens with women artists and something about their personality that comes through. I see Betsy Bauer and Carol Anthony when I see their work.”
The first woman artist to influence Donadello was her mother, Rosa, an amateur painter. Though the family was not affluent enough to purchase art, as a young girl Gloria loved to roam New York City’s museums and admire the landscapes and still lifes.
In the dining room are a sculpture by Harold Castor and works by Joan Watts, Mary Ristow, Carol Anthony, and Joseph Powell.
Given Barber’s background, there was really no question that she would become a collector. So accustomed was she to living with art that when she landed a job at the clip desk of Look magazine in 1960 and rented her first apartment, her thoughts immediately turned to what she would put on her walls. Inspiration came during frequent lunches in the Museum of Modern Art cafeteria, which Barber loved for its then-inexpensive food and, especially, accompanying free admission to the museum.
“I fell in love with Wyeth, and of course I bought a poster of Christina’s World, which made me so curious and aware that there were stories behind paintings,” Barber says. “And I loved Salvador Dali’s paintings of clocks. Now it’s very ho-hum, but those paintings, then, to someone my age, were so exciting.”
As the women built their successful careers—Barber as an English professor at the City University of New York, Donadello as a psychotherapist and professor at Fordham University—they slowly obtained artwork they admired by people they befriended: raku-fired pots by Jeff Shapiro, mixed-media pieces with literary themes by Sandra Ortiz Taylor, and large ceramic platters by Arnie Zimmerman.
Their retirement and move to Santa Fe in 1991 had an enormous impact on the course of their collection. They relocated to be near the world-class music of the Santa Fe Opera and the natural beauty of northern New Mexico, but after arriving they were surprised to encounter artists nearly everywhere they went.
“Once, we found ourselves at Hand Artes Gallery in Truchas, NM,” Barber says. “We might have gone in there because Gloria had to go to the bathroom, I don’t remember, but the gallery had a fabulous Sheila Keefe show.” Both women were smitten with Keefe’s lush gold-leaf constructions and paintings on wood panels. They didn’t buy right away, but eventually their collection of Keefes grew to seven works. The centerpiece of the group is an elegant depiction of an East Indian goddess cradling a pile of eggs and protected by a snake; subtly carved into the background is Christian iconography.
After the first of many trips to Italy together, Donadello and Barber purchased an abstract, Monet-like yellow painting by New York artist Edith Teitelbaum. The piece, which hangs on their living room wall today, is among the most enduring in their collection and one of a number influenced by a sense of place. “To me, this painting is the beautiful golden cities of Tuscany,” Barber says.
Journeys to Africa, Europe, and Antarctica added baskets and paintings to their list of treasures. With the deaths of Barber’s parents came a few more pieces of such aesthetic and sentimental value that she could not sell them: tabletop sculpture by Ralph Hurst and Harold Castor, for example, and a landscape painting by Okada purchased while her father lectured to American armed forces in Asia. A surviving still life by Donadello’s mother augments the deeply intimate character of the collection.
Much of their art has an interior, psychological bent. Barber gravitates toward pieces that speak of loneliness; Donadello to those that express pure emotion. But the range of subjects and styles is as wide as the range between Billie Hutt’s naive painting of Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and Joan Watts’ minimalism.
“We are very fortunate to have good pensions, but you don’t have to be a millionaire to buy art,” Barber says. “We’ve never paid more than $3,000 for a piece. We simply make art a priority. I’d rather have a piece of art than new clothes.”
She offers this bit of advice to longtime collectors: Don’t give work away. “There was a piece by Harry Crowley hanging in our New York loft,” she says. “It reminded me of a huge glacier, a cliff of ice. I can’t remember what happened to it, but after our recent trip to Antarctica, I wish I could hang it on the wall. Even if you think your taste has changed, you can come back to what may have gone out of your palette for 20 years.”
Echoing the sentiment of many collectors, Barber and Donadello stress that when it comes to buying art, individual response is the only meaningful criterion. Recently, Barber attended an exhibit of Watts’ mostly white paintings thinking the work would be too spare for her liking. She was surprised to come upon a piece with softly blurred triangles of gray and a thin white horizon line, which reminded her of the reflection of landscape in water: a serene, idealistic place.
“My mother had just died,” she recalls. “I was very drained; it had been a long dying. I saw this piece and I had to buy it. It says something to me about where my mom has gone. It gives me peace.”
Featured in February 2000