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"Nectarines," by Sherrie Wolfe. [Courtesy: Laura Russo Gallery; photo by Leninger Fine Art Conservation.]
Guest Writer

Embarking on a journey of discovery
The life-affirming qualities of art
by Duane Snider

viewed my first art purchase as an isolated event involving a unique and beautiful object.

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 icons.

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 18 months.

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 tendencies.

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.

"Through 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 emotional needs.

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 of icons.

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 tone.

Untitled 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 single purchase.

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.

"Wishing 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.

Original images above from the private collection of Duane Snider and Linda Dies.
E-mail Duane at sniderdies@msn.com and find more of his writing in our archives.

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