Meet the collectors behind the Jepson Center’s “Savannah Collects” exhibit

Savannah Collects is an exhibition that opened at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center in the beginning of October. The show is composed exclusively of work loaned to the museum by local area art collectors and gives a particularly unique view into the collecting habits of Savannah’s cultural connoisseurs. 

Savannah Collects includes everything from paintings and photographs, to stoneware and silver tea caddies, to multi-media works and contemporary sculpture. It also represents an epoch-spanning overview of work ranging from the 1700s up to the modern day. 

Some of the collectors who loaned pieces for the show were gracious enough to spend a few minutes with us in order to allow us to peek behind the curtain and see what motivates them as individuals. Below is what they had to say. 

Savannah Collects runs through January 18, 2015 at the Jepson Center. 


Richard Middleton

Richard Middleton pictured with: Thomas Sully (American,1783–1872) Unknown, 1853-56 Oil on canvas. Photo by Adriana Iris Boatwright.

SAI: How long have you been collecting?
Since I was fifteen. My grandparents were very fortunate and had a wonderful collection. We lived on the same farm in Virginia in Charlottesville and I was around really good pieces of art growing up and so I developed an affection for it… If I had a few extra bucks in my pocket I’d go out and buy something. Probably shouldn’t have, but I did anyway. A number of my former wives were unhappy with some of my purchases. I kept the art though. And my sanity.

SAI: Can you tell us something about the piece you loaned to the Telfair for this show?
The portrait was discovered in a U.S. DEA drug auction in Hilton Head by Kim Iocovozzi… He recognized a distinctive signature on the rear of the canvas. It was Thomas Sully… We came back and looked in the catalog here in the research library at the Telfair and found out which portrait it was. It’s described by the artist. He kept a complete inventory of all his portraits and it’s a lady from Baltimore, Maryland. It was a great find. The only thing that’s better than making the discovery of a great piece of art like this is restoring it and see how different it can be…. That’s just one of the joys of collecting.


Kim Iocovozzi

Photo by Adriana Iris Boatwright.

SAI: What got you into collecting the types of objects like the one in this exhibition?
KI: I buy and sell American, European, and Scandinavian Impressionist paintings. In the mid-90s I was doing a show in Augusta and a guy came up to me and said, ‘I have a painting I’d like to sell you.’ It was in a little case and he handed it to me and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know what this is, but it’s not a painting.’ It looked like a mirror. And that was my first daguerreotype discovery. It was a daguerreotype of a painting rather than a person, so it took me a couple of weeks to figure out what it was. Then of course I jumped in [to collecting them] feet first because it intrigued me so much.


Unknown maker
Image of Portrait of Pierce Butler (1744-1822), not dated
Daquerreotype. Photo by Adriana Iris Boatwright.

SAI: Can you tell us something about the piece you loaned to the Telfair for this show?
KI: This daguerreotype was offered to me by a dealer who knew that I was into daguerreotypes of paintings. It has a provenance coming from the Butler family in Philadelphia and what’s interesting is that over his shoulder in this image in the painting is the rice mill that still stands in Darien, GA. Pierce Butler didn’t visit his plantation much. Roswell King basically ran it for him. Butler lived in Philadelphia because he was part of the First Continental Congress and when he had his portrait made he wanted it to reflect what it was he did as a planter, so he had his rice mill painted into the scene… With my wife’s family’s ties to Pierce Butler’s overseer, I had to have it… According to [historian] Malcolm Bell the original painting burned in a fire in the late 18th century, so this daguerreotype is the only proof of its existence.


Dick Hanna and Steve Dunham

Dick Hanna & Steve Dunham
 pictured with: Henry Moore (British, 1898-1986)
Four Standing Women, 1974
Lithograph on paper. Photo by Adriana Iris Boatwright.

SAI: How did you two begin your collection?
SD: The collection began about fifty years ago in Chicago when young Dick Hanna here was working for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as an architect. His employers were putting notable art in all their corporate job sites as much as they could and they encouraged their employees to begin their own art collections… I came along four years later and we became partners — we’ve been partners for 47 years — and I started collecting with him… Once we started having houses, we needed more art, so we started buying things that we just liked that we saw. Then we reached an epiphany where we decided, ‘Oh, we have to get rid of all these and replace them with all “name” art.’ So that’s what we did. We now have over a hundred pieces. About half of them are in our house here and the other half is in our condo in Chicago.


Detail of: Henry Moore (British, 1898-1986) Four Standing Women, 1974 Lithograph on paper. Photo by Adriana Iris Boatwright.

SAI: Can you tell us something about the piece you loaned to the Telfair for this show?
We let the curators for the show come over and pick the piece they wanted. We were astonished, because of all the pieces we have, we thought that the museum was going to go for one that was ‘more bang for the buck’ and they ended up deciding to pick this very subtle Henry Moore piece. This Henry Moore is a study of line, color, and form. The colors are black and white and gray. The line is just a simple line to depict the form. And what we think — since he was a sculptor — is that this is a study for a major piece that he did in bronze. We don’t know whether he made the piece or not. We don’t know the history. But we certainly like the lithograph.


John Duncan

John Duncan pictured with: Myrtle Jones (American: Georgia, 1913-2005)
Essie Reading, 1960
Oil on canvas. Photo by Petee Worrell.

SAI: What first got you into collecting?
You know, if there’s a collectors gene, I have it. At age six it bit me early. I collected steel pennies in 1943 at age six. Then I moved to fossils and then books and then maps and prints, and eventually sculpture, that’s my latest passion… My collecting obsession is a sickness and I hope I’ll never be cured.

SAI: Can you tell us something about the piece you loaned to the Telfair for this show?
For several of [Jones’] paintings, I actually painted a house for her. I was a poor professor at the time and she traded paintings for work… She had just been to Paris and had studied the Impressionists and she came back and made this painting. And, like the Impressionist painters back in the late 1800s, she would go to the flea markets and buy old frames. That’s why Impressionist paintings are often seen in these rococo 18
th century frames… This was her maid, Essie. And oddly enough, I have another of her paintings that shows this one in the corner of the second painting. But the second painting is dated 1959, which is an impossibility because this one is dated 1960. She said she didn’t want to sign her paintings until she sold them, like Picasso she said. 


Lori Judge

Lori Judge pictured with: Kedgar Volta (Cuban, b. 1983) Urban Impositions, 2013 Interactive video installation. Photo by Dylan Wilson.

SAI: What made you decide to start collecting art?
I have always had a passion for art for as long as I can remember. I actually wanted to be an artist but it turns out I wasn’t that good at it. I was able to start collecting larger pieces of art when I started Judge Realty. Instead of taking commission for property I traded for pieces of art.

SAI: Can you tell us something about the piece you loaned to the Telfair for this show?
LJ: I first saw the Kedgar Volta Urban Impositions piece when I was down in Miami for Art Basel last year. Kedgar Volta is an artist out of Jacksonville, Florida who is very familiar with Savannah. The piece immediately struck me, but what sealed the deal was, while producing this series, Volta came up to Savannah and filmed pedestrians on the streets of downtown and placed them in his images. The people you see walking through the image are that of Savannah pedestrians. It is also the first piece of the Judge Realty permanent art collection. When not at Telfair, it is hung in the window of Judge Realty for the entire community to see 24/7.


Barbara Archer (Barbara Archer Gallery)

Barbara Archer pictured with: Howard Finster (American: Georgia, 1916-2001)
My Cup Runneth Over, pre-1976
House paint on industrial mill cloth. Photo by Petee Worrell.

SAI: How did you get into collecting?
My professional career and and interest in art over the years was a natural link to becoming a collector and collecting the art that I love and that I eventually started selling. I worked for the High Museum for many years and then for a private collection before I opened my gallery… I did the first encyclopedic folk art exhibition that had been done in this country at the High in 1988. That led to a lot of other things over time. Eventually the High had the first folk art curator in any non-folk-art museum in the country. So I’ve been involved in the field of self-taught art for a long time. Howard Finster is obviously one of the — if not the — primo players in that genre.

SAI: Can you tell us something about the piece you loaned to the Telfair for this show?
What attracts me to all of the work that appeals to me in the self-taught art world is that raw sort of feeling. It’s very personal and it’s not studied or planned. It’s a very raw impulse and response to art making. This piece hung in the garden, Paradise Garden, that’s one of the reasons it’s so important. It hung on the back of his garage and was actually displayed in the garden and is so early it’s before he started numbering his work… All of Finster’s art was not about art for art’s sake. He didn’t consider himself an artist. It was about trying to get the ‘Word of God’ out. So Paradise Garden was made for that reason and all of the works that he made were about that goal. 


Caroline Armstrong

Caroline Gordon Armstrong
 pictured with: Mary Ann Eliza Howard Williams (American, 1832-1874)
Portrait of Howard Williams and Caroline Lucinda Williams, c. 1851
Oil on canvas. Photo by Petee Worrell.

SAI: What got you into collecting?
My father had an artistic streak. He was what you call a ‘Clipper Pioneer’ with Pan American. That means he started flying with them as a young navigator in 1934. My whole life growing up he brought things home that I have been privileged to keep and take care of. This painting comes down through his family. I also had a great-aunt who was an artist on my mother’s side whose name was Caroline. And I write and illustrate children’s books myself. I was also an adjunct professor at Armstrong, teaching design and art history. Now I’m retired and do it in Bluffton high schools for hardly any money at all.

SAI: Can you tell us something about the piece you loaned to the Telfair for this show?
This is my great-grandmother and her brother Charles. Their mother, Mary Ann Eliza Howard, painted it. Maybe that’s where the artistic bent comes from in the women in the family. She died when my grandfather was an infant in her arms, when she was relatively young, so he was raised by his grandparents. I found a photograph of her as an adult in the family papers in Athens in the library and I saw my father staring right back at me… When this painting was done, the family was living in Columbus, GA. I’m not quite sure where the fantasy background came from, unless it was Pine Mountain. It was painted in the 1850s and came down through my father’s family.

Kristopher Monroe

Author: Kristopher Monroe

Kristopher Monroe is a member of the board of Art Rise Savannah and writes about art and culture for various publications, including The Atlantic, Playboy, Dazed & Confused, Juxtapoz, and many others. He’s also a regular contributor for Savannah Morning News and is trying to finish the novel he moved to Savannah to complete before people stop taking him seriously when he talks about it.

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