by Sherrie Wolfe. [Courtesy: Laura Russo Gallery; photo by Leninger
Fine Art Conservation.]
on a journey of discovery
life-affirming qualities of art
my first art purchase as an isolated event involving a unique and
At the time I thought it would be a one-time purchase
and never dreamed I'd become a collector. That was for people with
more knowledge and money than I would ever have, or so I thought.
I didn't realize I was embarking on a journey of discovery.
Years later I came to understand this journey was
not just a quest for knowledge of art but, more importantly, for
knowledge of my own identity. Buying that first piece of art was
the continuation of a lifelong search for my own personal set of
After I married my wife, Linda, I started having fantasies about
turning our new house into our own private art gallery. We started
buying pieces when we had enough extra cash and made monthly payments
to galleries for work we put on layaway.
Unfortunately, I also struggled with depression and dependence
on pot and gourmet wines. Anger and mood swings were part of my
addiction and, after we'd been together six years, Linda reached
her limit. I could have her or the addiction, not both. I attended
12-step meetings and gave up drugs and alcohol over the course of
Living clean was more difficult than expected. I no longer had
drugs to dull the affects of my depression and needed a place to
put my compulsive tendencies. I started attending First Thursday
openings at the galleries in Portland's Pearl District with an almost
religious regularity. We bought more art and Linda quickly realized
my growing obsession for art was taking my mind off of self-destructive
We refinanced our mortgage and took out cash to remodel our house.
Now that I was spending so much of my spare time in art galleries
I talked Linda into the idea of redoing the interior in the style
of a gallery.
The tacky walnut-colored paneling was ripped off to show the original
lath and plaster walls. Pulling up the scuzzy green shag carpet
revealed original 3/8-inch oak floors. The walls were painted linen
white. The floors were sanded and given a Swedish finish.
The Trees," by Michael Schlicting. [With artist's permission;
photo provided by Leninger Fine Art Conservation.]
The interior was now our own little gallery. Everything we hung
looked great. Our house became a spiritual sanctuary where we retreated
each evening after work and on weekends. We had good jobs that paid
the bills but our occupations could not fulfill our creative and
It was great just walking in the door to be greeted by rooms full
of unique, beautiful and meaningful works of art. It was our house
Linda started taking painting and drawing classes and I continued
my quest for great affordable art. But although I stayed sober I
suffered bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts. Yet it was always
art that seemed to give comfort, inspiration and zest for life.
Collecting became instrumental in defining my identity and broadening
my understanding of the value of culture and aesthetics. A gallery
director introduced me to the idea of connoisseurship and the thought
of cultivating an appreciation for the highest expressions of art
became an obsession. I focused on learning how to acquire the best
examples of the art I liked at prices I could afford.
I learned quickly that smaller pieces by artists who were just
beginning to show their work were not only affordable but also great
values for the quality of the work. I started with pieces that were
mostly representational, but made the effort to look at all the
different kinds of work showing in local galleries. Persistent effort
expanded my tastes and the art we purchased took on a more eclectic
nude, by Kevin Kadar. [Courtesy: Froelick Gallery]
We made a continuous string of purchases over a 20-year period
and prevented going broke with a few simple ground rules: We allowed
ourselves only one piece of art on layaway at a time and put a $1,000
limit on any one piece. And, since we both had to live with it,
we both had to love the work.
Some great opportunities were missed, but we managed to acquire
far more than I ever imagined possible. We've never regretted a
Each work we brought home became a watermark in our lives. Each
installation was a reason to celebrate an event that gave us good
feelings for the commitment we had made to our esthetic pursuits.
This process helped me find a level of identity and self-respect
that I'd never known. Collecting became my process for opening myself
to the world in order to discover who I was and who I wanted to
be. Art gave me a healthy diversion from my darker emotional periods.
Our collection grew and we kept moving along with the expected
ups and downs. Then, after 10 years of sober living, I was consumed
by an unfortunate set of events.
I came down with pneumonia and fell into a deep depression. I was
prescribed Paxil and for a short time thought I was OK. Nothing
could have been further from the truth. I came to realize that this
drug not only neutralized my self-destructive emotions, but also
drained almost every speck of passion out of my being. I stopped
taking Paxil after a year and started having suicidal thoughts again.
I did a round of counseling and tried to find ways to deal with
what I knew were completely irrational impulses.
Well #5," by Katherin Levin-Lau. [Courtesy: Butters Gallery;
photo provided by Leninger Fine Art Conservation.]
For three more years I struggled.
Art was where I found comfort and emotional relief, and during
this period I needed all the comfort and relief I could get. At
times I felt like the dark waves of emotion would engulf me and
wash away my life. Some days I could barely force myself out of
bed, but would focus on one or two pieces in our collection just
after waking and that gave me enough spark to start my day. In the
evenings I would return feeling emotionally drained and mentally
depleted. But I walked in the door to be greeted by dozens of familiar
and comforting images and felt my spirit instantly lifted and relieved
of the day's burdens.
Then a friend suggested I look at the reports on studies of treating
depression with Omega-3 oils. I started a daily regime and within
weeks felt like a different person. I believe it was a miracle.
I had my passion, a positive outlook and a level of focus like
I could never remember.
Looking back, I have to wonder how long I could have made it without
a loving partner and the life-affirming qualities of art. My story
is difficult for Linda and me, but one worth telling.
I want to demonstrate the potential value art has for the individual
and I can't think of a stronger example than to show the impact
it has had on my life.
In art I find joy, inspiration, comfort, therapy, meaning and,
most of all, myself. I often hear people harping about how expensive
art is and how they just can't afford it.
I dread to think what my life would be like had I felt like that.