Tim Newton | The Journey of a Lifetime

Collector Tim Newton has an insatiable passion for art

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Photos by Gary Mamay

Tim Newton

Tim Newton

This story was featured in the October 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  October 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Step inside the New York home of Tim Newton, and it’s immediately clear that an art lover lives here. A survey of the living room reveals stunning oil paintings by master artists Joseph McGurl and Don Demers, among others. The works are hung in a minimalist style—sometimes just one painting per wall—as if each is a star. The living room’s focal point is a majestic portrait of a ship at sea by Christopher Blossom, which is perfectly illuminated by recessed lighting from above. The painting is flanked by two low-slung bookcases packed with books about art.

This fall Newton celebrates the 25th birthday of his art collection. It was back in September 1991 that Newton and his wife, Cathi, visited Gary Carter’s studio in West Yellowstone, MT, and purchased a sketch for $600. “It was the beginning of an insatiable passion for art,” Newton says.

Today the Newton collection features more than 300 original artworks, mainly oil paintings by prominent living artists, including William Acheff, Mian Situ, Matt Smith, John Stobart, Richard Schmid, Kathy Anderson, and Curt Walters. Sprinkled throughout Newton’s homes in Long Island and Brooklyn Heights there is an array of genres—still lifes, figures, landscapes, and wildlife works. And each home features a smaller collection of bronze sculptures by artists such as Tim Cherry and John Coleman.

A beginning collector might ask what it takes to amass such an impressive collection. The answers are time and patience, Newton says; you can’t discover 300 singular masterpieces overnight. Rather, collecting art is the journey of a lifetime. Collectors should also know that Newton, a professional kitchen designer, first began buying art on a modest budget while raising two daughters. What follows is the story of his odyssey through the sometimes daunting universe of galleries, museums, and artists.

Once Newton returned from Montana with that first Gary Carter sketch, his art education began in earnest, he says. For the next few years he immersed himself in the world of prints, learning about artists by studying catalogs from major publishing houses such as The Greenwich Workshop. It wasn’t long before he was acquiring prints for $100 to $250 each. “That period of time was like my college art education,” Newton says.

A major turning point arrived a few years later in 1995. While thumbing through a catalog from an Arts for the Parks show, Newton eyed a painting by artist Lanford Monroe [1950-2000]. By then he was familiar with Monroe’s works through art magazines he had been reading. He relished the idea of owning her ethereal depiction of a bear perched on a mountain. The day after the show opened, Newton called and discovered that the work was still available. Taking a giant leap of faith, he plunked down $5,000 for the painting. The sum was the most he had ever paid for an artwork, and it marked his official entry into the original fine-art market. “It was one of the smartest, craziest moves I ever made,” Newton says. “That Lanford Monroe work is an utter treasure. I must have had good intuition back then.”

Newton considers the next step in his journey a stroke of good luck. In 1997 the New Yorker headed west, making the first of what would become regular visits to the Western Visions show at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY. The exhibition turned out to be a valuable educational tool. “It educated me about a whole group of artists who were painting at a top level,” Newton says. “It was our good fortune that they had such a carefully curated group of artists, which has affected my understanding of good art to this day.”

In 1998 when he attended the show again, he placed his wife’s name in the draw box for a Clyde Aspevig painting, GOATS IN NORWAY. Newton said at the time he didn’t know that much about Aspevig except that he liked the work. He recalls that when his wife’s name was drawn, she turned to him in surprise and said, “We just bought a painting of goats?”

Since the Aspevig acquisition, Newton says both he and Cathi have grown immensely in their knowledge of art. He gives kudos to Cathi for her tough role as the fiscal police officer who tries to keep watch over his art expenditures. The Aspevig, a miniature, illustrates one of the key principles in Newton’s art collecting: Buy small paintings by master artists rather than large paintings by unknown artists. In fact, his collection brims with miniature gems.

John Apgar, formerly with New York’s J.N. Bartfield Galleries, first offered Newton this good advice, and he also became a trusted mentor who occasionally advised him on purchases. But more important to Newton were their regular discussions about art.   

Whether large or small in scale, many of the artworks in the collection have come from four major shows he attends regularly: Western Visions, the Prix de West Invitational, Masters of the American West, and the Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale. And this illustrates another piece of advice from Newton for collectors: Go to well-curated shows, whether at museums or galleries. In addition, he notes that the shows now are not just about acquiring art; they have also become like “family reunions,” a time to renew valued friendships with artists and fellow art-lovers.

So why all the shows in the West for this East Coast collector? Newton grew up in Wyoming and Colorado in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. “Even though I am not specifically a western art collector, my roots are in the West,” Newton says. “My heart is still in the West.” Thus, it’s no surprise to see a Grand Canyon landscape, a sunny Santa Fe street scene, and a cowboy or two in the collection.

Although at first glance the collection seems eclectic, on closer inspection, there are two themes threading their way around the walls of Newton’s homes. He owns about 45 paintings he refers to as coastal or maritime works, which often feature ships in a harbor. The theme—not conscious at first—was driven initially by his attraction to works by Demers and Blossom. Speculating on the subject matter’s appeal, Newton says it may be because he grew up in landlocked states and became fascinated by stories about the high seas. “The themes also command my attention because of the mystery and beauty of the sea,” he adds.

Newton also owns a number of night scenes and nocturnes. Again Newton explains that their allure is the mood and mystery they evoke. In fact, when talking about the collection’s two main tropes, he is fond of joking, “Give me a ship in port in moonlight, and I’m sold.”

Although it doesn’t feature a ship, one of Newton’s favorite works at the moment is Joseph McGurl’s THUNDERSTORM OVER THE MIDWEST FROM A PLANE WINDOW. The piece is a favorite, in part, because of the audaciousness of the subject matter, a view looking down at a vast grid of city lights at night during a lighting strike. These days, after perusing countless canvases, the collector notes that fresh new subject matter really stands out. “I also like the way light is captured and its daring composition,” Newton says. “Then there’s the contrast between heaven and earth portrayed with mystery and grandeur. Heaven and earth even seem to merge together.”

When asked about his strategy for what he collects today, Newton says he looks for technical skill, great design, and artwork that tells a story. Asked if he has a wish list, Newton initially says no; he prefers spontaneity in his collecting approach. But seconds later, he adds, “I may have to get
another McGurl.”

As might be expected, his taste has evolved over the years. His collection has expanded to include looser, more impressionistic works, such as figurative paintings by Quang Ho and Sherrie McGraw. Also, a deep appreciation for sketches has grown and flourished. “The spontaneity and energy in a sketch isn’t always duplicated in a finished work,” Newton says. Whether paintings, sketches, or sculptures, Newton says he is always looking for the best of the best—the works artists want to own themselves.

Twenty-five years have passed since Newton first walked into Gary Carter’s studio. His journey through the art world has been nothing short of life-changing, he says. And any description of his life in art isn’t complete without mentioning his involvement with New York’s Salmagundi Club, which he joined in 2003. Founded in 1871, it has welcomed legendary painters like Childe Hassam through the doors of its home, a historic brownstone on Fifth Avenue.

In 2005 Newton suggested the club present a world-class show modeled on the well-curated art shows he attends in the West. In 2008 the American Masters show debuted and has become a successful annual fundraiser for the nonprofit club. This year’s show is on view September 29 through October 21.

Newton became the club’s chairman of the board in 2011. By all accounts he has played a significant role in returning the club to its glory days. The American Masters show attracts prominent artists from across the country, and many become supportive members. In turn, his involvement with the club has provided him with invaluable experiences, such as judging prestigious art competitions and sitting on the boards of important artists’ foundations.   

These days when he peruses the artworks in his collection, Newton feels great satisfaction. But his art journey is about so much more than that, he explains. “Art has created a whole new world for me to live within,” Newton says. “I am a kitchen designer by profession, but now I have a whole other side that I will continue with until I die. It’s just a great joy and pleasure to live in this creative world. And the people in this world are my other family.”

This story was featured in the October 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  October 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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