How to Become an Art Collector: It’s Easier Than You Think!–Part 1

[This is the first of a five-part series by Seabrooker Barbara Burgess.–Ed.]

Introduction: An Unexpected Journey

Imagine my delight when I learned that the prestigious Franklin G. Burroughs and Simon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina wanted to add my collection of art to their permanent body of works. I had no background in art, but over a period of 10 years, I had assembled a collection of 53 pieces of art–all by Southern artists. I had not thought that my first purchase, “The Escorting of Ruth” by the artist Jonathan Greenescorting of ruth
would lead to 52 additional purchases, 21 of them by Green. Suddenly my museum-bound collection had qualified me as an art collector, but what I also realized was that being a collector was not as difficult as I had imagined it might be.

My late husband, John Dinkelspiel, and I had moved from Boston, Massachusetts to Seabrook Island, into a house we had built overlooking the marsh, the Kiawah River and the Atlantic Ocean. My world went from a somewhat dark condominium in Boston to a more modernistic house in Seabrook filled with large windows and lots of light. Here in this location, surrounded by the burgeoning art world of nearby Charleston, my tastes in art were to change. Instead of looking at art as just something to be put on the walls, I wanted vibrant colors to decorate our new, more modern house. I was being drawn to the sights and colors of those Southern artists who surrounded themselves with the world they saw around them.

As I continued to buy pieces of Southern Art, I realized I had moved from house decorating with art into the realm of a collector of art. It happened quite easily with no formal training other than my own self education. If you are interested in looking beyond the acquisition of wall art to the possibilities of being an art collector, there are some guidelines that can help you make this transition. They include:

  • Getting to know the artists
  • Developing a theme
  • Training your eye
  • Considering your pocketbook
  • Gifting or selling your collection

Part One: Getting to Know the Artists

It’s important to find the artists whose work you want to collect. This can be as easy as seeing work on other people’s walls and asking them about the artist. It can and should involve visiting art galleries, auction houses, retail establishments and art collectives.

I had lot of help in getting to know the artists as my friend, Julia Norrell, of Washington, D.C., was a prolific collector largely of Southern art, a theme that was to unfold for me. In 2007, Julia sold 1,000 pieces of her collection to the Morris Museum in Savannah, Georgia. She has examined a lot of art in her day, which has made spotting and collecting art a lot easier for her than for someone with less exposure. Julia introduced me to three artists–Jonathan Green, William Clark, and Corrie McCollum–as well as a collector, Richard Weedman.

Richard Weedman, who is the business and life partner of Jonathan Green as well as a lifelong collector, introduced me to many up and coming artists he was collecting, including Aaron Henderson and Reynier Llanes.

I found Chuma’s Art Gallery in Charleston, where Chuma Woikiki presented the art of Southern and African artists. I found many artists through Chuma, including James Denmark and Cassandra M. Gillens. I even ended up introducing Chuma to the art of William Clark, someone whose work I had begun collecting.

My own passions led me to discover many emerging artists who became part of my collection. I did this by visiting some of the smaller galleries in Charleston to look at the work being displayed by lesser known names. It is in these smaller galleries that I found the work of Linda Karl and Lynne Hardwicke. Linda Karl and I even collaborated on some art work when I brought Linda to Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery outside of Charleston, to compose some photographs she would later turn into serigraphs.

I was getting to know the artists. They were becoming part of the fabric of my life as I was becoming part of theirs, and I was well on my way to building a bona fide collection.

In Part 2, I will discuss the second key to becoming an art collector: Develop a Theme.

—Barbara Burgess

Barbara Burgess


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