Interviews with collectors (who also happen to be book-makers)
There are as many different ways to think about collections as there are collections themselves. Here at Blurb, we see these differences every day in the books collectors publish with us. To dig a little deeper into the mind of the collector, we approached two book-makers to see how (and, more importantly, why) each chose to document and catalog their collection and self-publish it with Blurb. We also selected a list of creative “collections” books made with Blurb to further demonstrate just how varied the world of collecting can be.
First off is an interview with a photographer who helped put together a book of a friend’s impressive collection of very valuable Spanish colonial furniture. It’s a good look into how bringing a professional into the project can produce a seriously polished book.
Tell us a little bit about this project.
This book is a showcase of a friend’s collection that I produced for him. Jerry Hirsch, of the Lodestar Foundation, has been an avid collector of this style of furniture for many years. We met at a political function in Sedona, Arizona a year ago and started a conversation about this collection at that time. I became very intrigued by his collection when I went to his home to see these pieces and to plan for a photo shoot of them.
Jerry decided that at some point he was going to sell his home and move to a more manageable property and did not want to put the furniture in storage. He thought that it should be preserved in a book form, something that was pictorial and factual. I sat down with him and his binder of info that was full of notes, receipts, pictures related to the purchase, and research on each individual piece. It was up to me to decipher and organize all of this and translate it into a book.
I work as a commercial photographer and I use Lightroom as part of my workflow. This software offers me the ability to do a wide variety of editing and file organizing as well as to create a Blurb book. I used this feature combined with my photographic experience to compose this book with Lightroom 5®.
Can you explain what your passion is? Describe, to someone who isn’t familiar with it, what you collect.
My passion is making pictures that showcase my creative talent and making people happy. I understand the art of collecting because I have an amazing collection of camera equipment that's been growing for 30+ years. I also collect photographic images that I make which translate into memories for me. I'm currently digitizing my lifetime of negatives with pictures of people that are gone, friends I still have, and family moments. This will eventually turn into a book as well.
Why did this type of collectible appeal to you?
I was initially attracted to Jerry's collection of furniture because I have always been passionate about architecture and design. I am specifically invested in Mid-Century Modern designs, which are prevalent in Arizona and offer a glimpse into a version of recent history. Jerry's collection operates in the same way, and is some sort of document of the aesthetic values that were carried through time and space to his home. It was a learning process for me and I saw new designs each time I photographed a piece from the collection.
...it brings him happiness to live with such aged and well- traveled pieces of leisure...
How did you get started building this collection?
I met with Jerry to decipher his binder full of notes, images, and receipts to create a list of items to be included. We started by identifying valuable pieces and then contacted dealers for more information on them. I photographed all the pieces and used their descriptions to compose the book. Jerry has been collecting this type of furniture for years because it brings him happiness to live with such aged and well-traveled pieces of leisure.
What made you want to put it into a book?
Jerry wanted to create an archive of his collection and something physical to give to people and show to visitors of his home. He thought it would be a great way to educate interested visitors as to the origin of the patina and the historical value of his collection. It will also serve as a catalogue for potential collectors when he is ready to part with specific pieces.
What have you done with your book since it was published?
It has only been published for a month so I'm not sure what has come of it just yet. I have shown it to friends and family, as well as written about the project on my blog. The completion of the book represents a great deal of time and effort devoted by Jerry and me. He is planning on sharing it with visitors to his home as well as potential collectors for the future sale of his collection.
What’s your favorite item in your collection?
My favorite piece is the Carved Polychrome Colonial Table on page 14. It is a large table that is quite fragile despite its sturdy appearance. I like to imagine how vibrant the colors were when it was first made. Also, I wonder how on earth it survived all this time.
Next we speak with a collector herself. Marsha Gold has been collecting for years and has turned her upcoming retirement into the chance to focus on her collections. With extra time and attention to give, she’s using her book to bring awareness of the beauty of contemporary fine craft to a whole new generation.
Can you tell us a little more about what you collect—how do you define it?
I collect contemporary fine craft made by artisans both in the United States and abroad. There are lots of debates about what craft is, but I try not to get too concerned with these debates. For me, “craft” involves objects that are made by people, usually by hand, whether to serve functional purposes or as artistic expression—or both. Practically speaking, I find I have a large number of objects that are ceramic or glass, though I also collect textiles, metal works, and works in other or mixed media. I look for objects that are well-made and appeal to me. Usually that is because they reflect my interest in the whimsy of everyday life and/or the beauty of form and texture. My collection also tends to be colorful. In addition to the core collection, I have a number of sub-collections, like one of handmade egg cups and another of international ethnic art.
How did you become interested in contemporary fine craft?
I think I’ve always been engaged with craft at some level, even as a child. Somehow craft connected me with something tangible and also with people across the world. As a child of the Jewish labor movement and the 60s, I liked the labor and tactile sense of handwork. Without thinking about it, I guess I intuitively prefer to buy directly from local craftspeople and organizations that exist in the community. Collecting crafts builds on my interest in people and community. Collecting crafts has provided me a way to get to know, understand, and support diverse craftspeople and the communities in which they are engaged. I also love to travel and craft provides a lens to learn from that experience. The collection also serves as a vital source of memories that I can revisit and use to bring a smile to my face every day.
Where did your collection start and how is it evolving? What’s your strategy?
By intuition and accident. I don’t necessarily consider myself a collector—though I have many collections. Being a collector to me sounds serious and very planned. My collection has evolved more organically from the 1970s, first slowly and then more rapidly as my knowledge, income, and connections to the craft community have evolved. I explore funky neighborhoods, visit craft shows or artists, and travel where I seek out unique objects. My collection reflects the thrill of the “hunt,” which perhaps is why I have so many things whose costs often were “reasonable,” rather than just a few big, expensive things. I also collect to meet my needs, which helps stretch and dollars and expand the collection. Much of my furniture, household utensils, and clothing is made by artisans who have prices competitive to finer mass-market stores.
I wanted to convey the smiles that can come from living with craft—the memories and joy associated with objects in a collection and the rich connections collecting brings to a craft community full of wonderful people and organizations that enrich an otherwise fine but different (and potentially right-brained) life.
What inspired you to turn your collection into a printed book?
Two things. First, I (and others I spoke with) thought there was a gap in writing for the large audience that loved (or could love) craft and supporting artists, but was intimidated and turned off by more academic discussion of the topic and a focus on very expensive (and perceived as unattainable) work. I wanted to write something approachable that I hoped might make the joy and richness of collecting real for younger people with more limited resources and technical knowledge. Second, I wanted to bring a greater sense of cohesion to my collection with its many pieces. I wanted to convey the smiles that can come from living with craft—the memories and joy associated with objects in a collection and the rich connections collecting brings to a craft community full of wonderful people and organizations that enrich an otherwise fine but different (and potentially right-brained) life.
Also, the timing and skills required were right. I am transitioning from a career in health policy research to so-called retirement. I’m no artist or craftsperson, but I am an experienced writer and also researcher with good interview skills. I hoped writing the book would allow me to bridge the “right-brained” side of my life with the “left-brained” one and open up ways to contribute and be further engaged with the craft community that I already supported, both with my purchases with and my organizational memberships and outside activity. The timing also was fortunate because a good friend also was in transition then and was willing to help with the photography, which I knew was critical to making the book a success.
How do your book and your collection interact? What’s in the future?
A lot of my focus has been personal—using email, Facebook, and direct contact to let my friends and colleagues, both in the craft community and outside it, know about the book. By buying some copies in volume I was able to reduce the cost of acquisition for close friends in the area and also support a limited Amazon offering. I also converted the publication to an ebook, which is cross-posted on Blurb and the Apple site. Everyone who’s read it tells me they love it and find it a “fun” read.
Drawing a larger audience of potential readers (and buyers) has been more challenging. Like others, I have found passive marketing just by posting a book, like on Blurb or Amazon, to be relatively ineffective. In an effort to build a larger audience, I have approached my craft community colleagues to publicize the book. One national organization asked me to answer some questions and made that a focus of a web posting on their site though that has not yet resulted in many sales. Fortunately, the book’s content is not very time-sensitive. As I transition to retirement and my time opens up, I hope to do more to publicize the book and build word of mouth. I also want to continue to stay engaged in the craft community and take advantage of any other writing opportunities.
What’s your favorite item in your collection?
That is very hard to answer since there are literally hundreds of items in my collection and I love many of them very much. The glass vase on the cover of my book appeals to me because it was an early acquisition that has a sweetness and anonymity that I find appealing. I suppose another favorite is the Nancy Kubale “Chorus” of odd characters I’ve assembled over time. They show both her continuity and growth as an artist and are just fun. I also love the ensemble of John Michael Route’s metalwork.
Want to explore even further? Here are more books of collections that caught our eye. Maybe you’ll see something you love and get inspired to make your very own collection album.