The Collectors — When art is a passion, not an investment

Posted on May 10, 2018 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Four personal collections that show acquiring art is a passion, not an investment

By Jackie Lee | For The Sun

Most of us build and decorate a home, then add art, while collectors often design architecture around treasured art acquisitions, to live surrounded by their passion. One sunny Sonoma afternoon, I sat down with some well-known collectors to ask what criteria guide their decisions.


Chester Arnold

Arnold has a unique take on the subject. He is internationally known as a fine artist and a highly respected art teacher, but he’s also an avid art collector. Frances Arnold is well known for her textile art and photography.

The Sun: What drew you to art collecting, and when did you start?

Arnold: I’ve been involved the art world for as long as I can remember. My MFA is from the San Francisco Art Institute. Subsequently, I taught art there, as well as at San Francisco State, and for the past 30 years at College of Marin in Novato. My earliest collecting was in trades with my fellow artists in college. I obtained pieces of their art that I treasure, and I know they love the paintings they acquired from me. It’s a continuing celebration of our long-term friendships.

What attracts you to the art you collect?

Something grabs me, taps me on the shoulder. Art that speaks for itself, not necessarily about the artist’s name or for investment. Art that we love and find stimulating. Our collection of ceramics, photographs, paintings and sculptures is a reflection of our lives together. Even when we couldn’t afford it, we would buy small artwork, such as functional ceramics that were beautiful and useful, and are still meaningful to us.

What advice would you offer to new collectors?

Definitely to acquire only what you love.

What is your opinion on the future of art?

Painting has suffered its eulogies over and over again, but the fact is, it’s a deep human instinct. It’s one of the few instances you find of humanity in history. I can’t imagine not having it. I am a creature of the age of gravity and friction. It’s a world we all inhabit, but my world is particularly dependent on gravity and the friction of material mushed around on canvas with brushes. It says a lot about the physicality of the work I try to do.

Artists focus on the human experience in the same way authors and filmmakers do. The art market is small, though. Relatively few love art and are committed to it, but it won’t disappear. As a beacon of excellence, I’ve always looked to the past, not the present. Great art is great art.



Kimberly and Simon Blattner

The Blattners live in a home on the Historic Register List and received an award of excellence from the League for Historic Preservation for its exterior, but inside is quite another matter. Wide open and bright, it tastefully showcases their collection of contemporary art in all mediums: paintings, prints and sculpture. Kimberly and Simon described their acquisitions during a tour of their home and gardens.

What drew you to art collecting, and when did you start?

KB: I grew up in an art-filled home; my mother was an interior designer. I lived in Florence, Italy, on a six-month overseas program during my college years, which cemented my desire to be active in the art world.

SB: As a paper maker and the owner of Eastside Editions (a print making business) for many years, I met a lot of artists in the San Francisco and Oakland areas. I was very involved in a wide art scene, and I have kept in touch with them.

What attracts you to the art you collect?

KB: I’ve always particularly liked three-dimensional pieces with texture and visible complexity, although I love all art in any form. I’m also interested in architecture, especially the process of converting this home and property.

SB: I am most drawn to prints with an intellectual orientation, such as those by Wayne Thiebaud and others of the genre. We have never thought of collecting for purposes of investment. We acquire what we love and want to live with every day.

Do you make it a point to attend exhibitions in galleries and museums?

KB: Yes, we are active in the educational aspect of the arts scene and attend gallery and festival openings whenever and wherever we can.

SB: We are avid supporters of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, where I was President of the Board for a while. We are very lucky to have this highly respected art museum in the heart of Sonoma, just half a block off the Plaza. It brings important exhibitions and classes to everyone. My exhibition of book art from Mexico, Libros de Artistas and the Mexican Diaspora, was the focus in the museum in March and April, and I’m heartened that so many people attended the show as well as the three curator talks I gave, so that indicates the importance of bringing it to Sonoma residents and visitors. I was especially delighted that attendance of our Latino community was high.

What advice would you offer to new collectors?

KB: Only buy something if you know you’ll enjoy looking at it every day.  It can’t bore you.

SB: Buy what you like with the intention of keeping it forever.

What is your opinion on the future of art?

SB: That’s a major question. Book art is popular everywhere now, enjoying a surge of interest. Art programs are coming back into schools, I’m sure of that. I’m optimistic because art has always been a part of the human experience.



Suzanne Brangham

Brangham is a major supporter of art in all its forms and is well known for her many contributions to Sonoma, including The General’s Daughter, Ramekins Culinary Center, and MacArthur Place Hotel. Appointed Sonoma’s Alcalde (Honorary Mayor) in 2014, she now looks forward to enjoying her own art career, with a new studio building in the planning stage.

What drew you to art collecting, and when did you start?

SB: I’ve always been involved in art one way or another; both visual arts and architecture are important to me. I taught fine arts and commercial design in Washington, D.C. after college before launching my real estate development business, which has consumed my attention for the last four decades. I’m still involved in architecture, and just completed the design of my new barn/studio. My partner and contractor, Jack Lundgren, is fond of saying “If Suzanne can design it, I can build it.” We’ve had a wonderful personal and professional relationship for 25 years.

What attracts you to the art you collect?

SB: Definitely the art itself, not necessarily the artist. You live with it in the home you created. It’s the painting you couldn’t resist, the excitement of an eight-foot sculpture, the shape, color, bold lines and pure magic of a piece from an upcoming artist. That’s what goes home with you. Not the artist.

Do you make it a point to attend exhibitions in galleries and museums?

SB: Yes! Galleries and museums are like octagonal red stop signs to me. Studying and appreciating the Masters, impressionists, cubists and modern artists is an ongoing, non-stop education for every artist. We’re all so fortunate to have an art museum in Sonoma, with fabulous exhibitions of changing artists every quarter, as well as offering trips to other metropolitan areas every year.

What advice would you offer to new collectors?

SB: Purchase what moves you. Don’t do it for the investment, only for the joy of living with it day and night. I started my collection years ago in England. I had decorated my flat with Matisse, Rothko, and Picasso posters, but I yearned for a real painting, signed by the artist. I was thrilled the day I purchased one, and since that time I have purchased many original pieces to adorn my home and businesses. I supported local artists by purchasing their art for 64 guest rooms and Saddles Restaurant at MacArthur Place.

What is your opinion on the future of art?

SB: Support of children’s programs in schools, at the Community Center, the museum, plein air, and Artescape, is high on my list. It’s also gratifying that the art museum’s public art exhibition of Albert Paley’s sculpture and Jim Callahan’s bronze sculpture of General Vallejo on the Plaza engenders so much public awareness. Art should always turn you on!




Pamela and John Story

The Story’s hillside home is architecturally stunning, carefully situated to celebrate the panoramic view. The expansive terrace and garden lead to an elegant home with a decidedly contemporary twist, while unexpected pink flamingos in the pool add a dashing touch of whimsy, aiming to make you smile. Pamela and John gave me a tour as I took some notes.

What drew you to art collecting, and when did you start?

PS: For many years, John and I have had the good fortune to live in many places, and traveling was a significant part of that shared experience. As our exposure to other cultures increased, so did our awareness of the great wealth of artistic expressions throughout the world. Those travels provided fond memories and the opportunity to collect many unique artworks.

What attracts you to the art you collect?

PS: We both appreciate an artist’s talent to capture an emotion or mood, but the art itself is more important overall. Color, composition, and design are the factors holding the greatest interest for us.

JS: Our general preference is for abstract, contemporary works or figurative pieces.

Do you make it a point to attend exhibitions in galleries and museums?

PS: We particularly enjoy touring other private collections, as they give insight into the collector’s mind. Sonoma Valley Museum of Art was in the start-up process when we became involved. I was fortunate enough to be on the Board in the beginning. It was a very exciting time for an entity whose success was an important building block of the community, in terms of growth. We saw its potential to provide value not only in the form of exhibitions but also in creating art experiences for local students and younger generations.

What advice would you offer to new collectors?

PS: Take your purchases seriously, choose carefully, and be sure you enjoy them, as you will be viewing them for a long time. If you have a partner, make sure you are in complete agreement on the purchase. When dealing with three-dimensional works, definitely stabilize them with museum putty and appropriately insure them. (We live in earthquake country and learned this lesson the hard way!)

What is your opinion on the future of art?

PS: I think the future is open-ended with possibilities to create art in ever more innovative ways, whether using found objects, natural materials, or technology. This new platform gives young people the ability to be exposed to, and enjoy, art without the accompanying expense of owning it.

JS: Culturally speaking, art will survive throughout the ages. Visually, it’s a different value system that all people can enjoy. Exposing children to art should be a continuing goal, but museum budgets are always a challenge. Hopefully, private enterprise will step in to make up the shortfall. Multiple cultures can appreciate art in all its forms and joining an art museum is a good start. Importantly, it’s encouraging that our Latino community is getting involved.

Jackie Lee became an artist after a long career in the wine business. Currently she enjoys painting with oils, as well as black ink Art Deco. Her focus is on supporting the Sonoma visual arts scene. [email protected].

Photos by Melania Mahoney 

One thought on “The Collectors — When art is a passion, not an investment

  1. Stimulating.

    No question, buying art requires keeping track of art trends. Did these California based buyer-collectors track the national or international art markets? Did they buy from the given art in the provincial market? Did they buy art sanctioned by the New York media?

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