I’m lucky to see people fall in love with a house, buy it and then settle in and make it uniquely theirs – sometimes by doing extensive renovations and sometimes just by adding their own personal touch and prized possessions. I love seeing this process happen. I firmly believe that when people put themselves into their home, it creates a warm energy and appeal that goes beyond how expensive or rare their possessions are. I take pride in the fact that I can make just about any space feel inviting on any budget. I’ve made dorm rooms look homey. Even my apartment during my time in Peace Corps, when I had virtually no budget, was a space I was happy to come home to. It took some creativity, but it was a true refuge.
One of the things that tells me so much about people is the artwork they display in their home. My art collection is not worth much money. Much of it was given to me as a gift or handed down from family. Or it was purchased during my travels or to commemorate special occasions. But each piece means so much to me and represents a part of my personal journey.
A retablo is most often a religious painting on an altar or on a panel. My mini altar above isn’t religious in nature, but rather is a market scene filled with children’s toys. The artist is a Peruvian woman named Eleudora Jimenez. She and other members of her family make these beautiful and intricately detailed scenes and they are sold throughout South America and even exported to the US. My best friend took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and brought me back this special gift which I cherish and proudly display in my living room.
Since I lived in the Dominican Republic for a little over two years, I’ve acquired a small collection of Dominican art and try to get a new piece every time I visit. On my last trip with my sons, we traveled around the island together with their dad. It was an amazing adventure filled with so many wonderful memories. We picked up mini Carnival masks like the one above for the kids at the Centro Leon Museum in Santiago. They’re displayed in their playroom because I believe art should be accessible and surround us as we go about our daily lives. I hope that the masks serve as a reminder to my boys of their Dominican heritage and rich artistic traditions that they have witnessed on the island firsthand.
Some of my favorite pieces are part of a collection of Native American pottery and jewelry passed down to me from my great aunt who passed away some years ago. Jeanne Loomis was married to my grandfather’s brother. She was British and met my great uncle in London where he was serving as a pilot during WWII. They married and settled back in the United States. Perhaps b/c she was from another country, my great aunt always fascinated me. She and my uncle were particularly close to my mom, their niece. Aunt Jeanne was a spitfire. She had no fear of speaking her mind and she knew how to get things done. She made every family holiday dinner a little more exciting. Later in her life, she became fascinated with Native American culture and began traveling to reservations and purchasing artwork and jewelry which she sold in her Lancaster County, PA shop. In addition to numerous pieces of gorgeous jewelry, she also passed down the above collection of Native American pottery.
The piece on the top left with the long-haired human figure is by artist Tom Wacca. And the piece on the bottom left comes from the Santo Clara reservation in New Mexico which is well known for its unique pottery from various artists. The three pieces on the bottom right were done by artists Roy Tsigowany and Stella Kwa Povi and were clearly a favorite of my aunt. And the small black and brown vessel is an example of the typical style of artist N. Sandia Jimenez. The pieces are special because of the their amazing craftsmanship but also because they remind me of my beloved aunt and her love of American culture. I will pass these down to my children in order to both keep her story alive, as well as the beauty of Native American artwork.
And finally, during my exploration of Dominican art, I have come to appreciate the coveted artwork by famous Haitian artists as well. Haitian art can be very expensive and the pieces that I have are not the most famous or renowned but they struck me. It takes only a second for me to realize which pieces connect with me and resonate. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love color and I also love artistic styles that lean toward folk art. So when I saw the above painting of a black Madonna by prolific contemporary Haitian artist Louis Luma, I decided it needed to be part of my collection.
Ultimately, our homes can become expressions of our history, our journey and our passions. As my own life continues to evolve, I plan to collect artwork that reflects each stage. In doing so, we create refuges for ourselves and our families and cozy, welcoming spaces for others as well.