Acquired Tastes: Collectors And Collecting

For some, it’s the thrill of the get. For others, it’s the chance to acquire a coveted object over and over again. It’s obsessive. It’s compulsive. It’s called collecting.

Acquired Tastes
For some, it’s the thrill of the get. For others, it’s the chance to acquire a coveted object over and over again. It’s obsessive. It’s compulsive. It’s called collecting.

I find collectors to be fascinating because they are attracted to one thing, one style, one color, one pattern or artist until they’re completely consumed by it. Some collectors have spent years looking for and learning about their collections, others have fallen instantly in love and amassed huge collections during just a few years. What drives this obsession? Obviously, the act of acquiring does, but it’s also the desire for knowledge as well as relationships that develop with people who have the same interest. eBay has only fueled the collecting frenzy. It’s now possible to search the world for a particular passion – anytime, anywhere.


Beau Black, a sales associate for David Sutherland Showroom, owns 50 silver cuffs from the workshop in Taxco, Mexico, of William Spratling. Spratling, a New York architect from the 1920s, was on a solo adventure to Mexico when he discovered the huge resources of silver in Taxco. He taught the locals the art of jewelry making, incorporating the New York  deco style of his era with the Aztec influence of the Indians. Spratling is credited with helping to establish the jewelry industry in Mexico, which is now collected all over the world. “His creations were worn by the world’s best dressed women such as the Duchess of Windsor, and collected by Gloria Swanson, Loretta Young, and Millicent Rogers,” Black says. The trend started among the glamorous movie stars, who wore silver jewelry with their ball gowns instead of diamonds and pearls. Soon Mexican royalty and wealthy men were wearing silver cuffs as badges of honor and as symbols of power and strength. But probably none was more fashionable than Beau Black.


Malee Helm began collecting rocks as a small child. She later expanded her collections to butterflies, eggs, and chickens – anything involved in the process of creation. Her home is now a museum of many collections, including an outstanding group of antique textiles. Through extensive world travels, Helm has acquired more than 250 different types of textiles, wearable and not, from India, China, Afghanistan, Thailand, and South America. An antique crewel from India covers a chair, and an old beaded chair upholstery is from Cameroon. A new brightly colored beaded chair is from Nigeria, and there are Kuba cloths from Mali in West Africa. She also boasts intricately buttoned cloths from Kenya, wedding saris from India, embroidered Chinese textiles, and ecclesiastical vestments from Italy and France. Her most unusual piece: A horsehair vest from England, which was used by knights under their armor.


It is only fitting that Buzz Dicken, owner of E.C. Dicken Inc. showroom in the Design Center, would collect carved wood. On buying trips to England for his showroom in the 1960s, Dicken began noticing and appreciating the many types of carved wooden walking sticks that he found in antique shops all over England. Considered a staple of the well-dressed English gentlemen in the late 1800s, Dicken’s walking stick collection focuses on the interesting and unusual, rather than the swagger sticks – elegant rosewood and sterling silver “favored by the finest English gentlemen,” Dicken says. He has 50 walking sticks now. His favorite, and also his first, acquisition is a carved beech wood stick in the shape of an umbrella, complete with the handle buttons. Many walking sticks were carved from vines in which the knots contribute to a giraffe-like spotted appearance. He has a carved ivory snakehead, an elk horn head with inlaid woods, a staghorn head on a root, even a dwarf that looks like Happy from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” An interesting teak walking stick from Africa is hollowed out with columns on the outside and moveable balls inside, all carved from a single piece of wood. Now Dicken displays his collection in a Regency period circa 1830 mahogany walking stick stand.


Kim Mauser’s mother, decorator Ann Strawn, first gave her a Murano dish five years ago. She fell in love with the color and shape and began her own collection – she now has about 25 pieces. She particularly favors glass pieces from the 1940s done by the artist Alfredo Barbini. “His pieces are characterized by gold bubbles in the glass. I like to think about the history and where each piece has been,” Mauser says. She compares her beginner’s collection of vases, lamps, and bowls to jewelry for the house – shiny, colorful, and each piece as different as snowflakes. She uses bowls as dishes for soap or nuts and incorporates her platters in entertaining. Her greatest find is a Tiffany blue salt lick with gold balls that she uses in her kitchen. A new mother, Mauser even has pink Murano dishes in her daughter’s room, at least, until she starts walking.


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