Two weeks ago, the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville opened its annual Napa Valley Collects show, an exhibition of art lent by local collectors. The terrific show, curated by Meagan Doud, is a quirky but accessible mix of subjects and mediums.
This year, museum staff asked visitors to write what they collect on a sticky note and post it on the wall near the check-in desk. Quilts, comic books, vintage ties and antique postcards were some of the collections reported. One guest wrote, “rich husbands,” which I think is a pretty boring thing to collect since by law you are allowed to keep only one at a time.
Collecting should be fun, but it can quickly become an addiction for some of us. There are several things to consider if you love to collect but also want to maintain order in your home.
Typically, either a minimalist approach — a very few things but really good examples — or a maximalist approach — tons of the same thing in every possible rendition — make the most impactful displays. Taste and available space dictate the amount a person collects as much as it does what one collects.
We have two wonderful examples in the Napa Valley of private art collections that are open to the public. Rene di Rosa’s collection, the di Rosa in Carneros, is now a public museum. Donald Hess’ The Hess Collection is housed at the winery on Mount Veeder.
Di Rosa was a maximalist, as can be easily seen in his residence, a part of the museum, where he and his wife lived with many of their favorite works of art hung on every available surface, including the ceiling. Hess is more of a minimalist with a lot of restful white space between artworks. But both have strongly focused collections.
A good example of a maximalist collection is the corkscrew collection at the Culinary Institute in St. Helena. The relatively small items are a delight to peruse due to the careful curation of the staff. The collection is grouped roughly by style, laid out neatly and lit adequately so that it is not too overwhelming to be enjoyable. Of course, they have a great deal of space.
A definitive focus makes a collection more interesting. Often we start out buying a variety of what we collect, Bakelite flatware, for example, and later if the collection becomes unwieldy we can divest ourselves of the lesser examples and focus on the better or rarer ones.
Display is everything! You can collect balls of twine or chicken wishbones, but if displayed cleverly and neatly, it will look like an amazing art installation. The book “Collected,” by Fritz Karch and Rebecca Robertson, features beautiful photographs of some very interesting collections, including dried pumpkin stems. The collector saved the dried stems from her children’s jack-o’-lanterns every year. They are sort of fascinating, though a bit umbilical for my taste. It’s certainly an inexpensive and unusual collection and gets the inspiration going for what is possible to collect.
Even if you don’t think you collect anything, you probably do. What about coffee cups, handbags, shoes, books and record albums? Could you edit or display these collections for more impact and enjoyment? I love it when young women in studio apartments use their book shelves for shoe and purse storage. If your favorite record albums are in a box in the garage, check to see if one or a few of them would be fun to frame and hang.
After the thrill of the hunt, live with and enjoy the collection. Every now and then turn a critical eye on it to edit so that you can get out there and gather again without worrying about overflow. Don’t forget to check in with yourself to make sure you are still jazzed by what you collect. Tastes and circumstances change. My art budget is maxed out and I am back to collecting rocks. Yes, they are free, but even better is that when I am “over” any given rock, I just toss it into the backyard, so in a way, I never have to get rid of any of them. I wish it were so easy with books!