The Art of Collecting

Residents acquire pieces for a variety of reasons, from love to money.

Christian Burch’s passion for his environs is evident the moment you step through the door of his condo on Pearl Avenue.

Seemingly every spare inch of wall space is adorned with a photograph, painting or found piece of art. And the variety is staggering. There are pieces by well-established painters purchased from galleries. There are prints by local artists. Scrawled images from Burch’s former high school art students. A woodcut print his mother made in the 1960s. Anonymous works from yard sales and consignment shops.

While Burch’s artwork is not conventional, it still counts as one of a wide variety of art collections in Jackson Hole. The process of collecting is deeply personal. But it’s also practiced in a diverse set of ways. For some, it’s about finding a piece that speaks specifically to them. Others focus on something they know they would enjoy seeing on their wall for years to come. And then there’s the aspect of artwork as investment.

As may be evidenced by Burch’s collection, he doesn’t necessarily view himself as an art collector in the traditional sense. When he considers acquiring a piece of art, he’s not thinking about it as an investment. He doesn’t look at the name or renown of the artist as much as the piece itself.

A prime example is the painting that has perhaps the most prominent space in the house—above the sofa in the living room. It’s an abstract, somewhat chaotic piece of a man standing in a bathtub in an apartment. The canvas comes from a consignment shop in Salt Lake City. Burch doesn’t even know who the artist is. But the painting grabbed him, and he bought it.

That is a large part of the philosophy that has driven him and his partner John Frechette as they have acquired artwork over the years.

“It either has some kind of sentimentality to me or it invokes something,” Burch said.

But that doesn’t mean he avoids shopping in galleries. Burch and Frechette have work from well-known valley artists. Pieces by Mike Piggott, Amy Ringholz, Carrie Geraci, Ryan Haworth and many others can be found on the walls.

One of Burch’s favorite pieces is an eerie photograph of a person wearing a rabbit mask sitting on an old BMW motorcycle.

Burch admits it can be tricky when a couple has to decide on art together. Frechette tends to gravitate toward brighter colors, Burch said, while he enjoys work with more gloomy tones.

But their tastes also overlap. The best example is a painting by Mike Piggott that Burch wanted to buy 12 years ago but had to forgo because of the price tag. Turns out, Frechette bought it a little later, before the two started dating. It now hangs in the entryway. Entitled After Andy’s Party, it’s a painting of a photograph of empty glasses on a table. The original photo was taken after a party thrown by Andy Warhol.

Burch used to be a practicing artist himself and taught art for years at the Jackson Hole Community School. Now he and Frechette co-own and operate two Jackson shops, Made and Mountain Dandy. Both feature a litany of handmade wares and reclaimed objects. The latter has self-described “men’s club” feel of the shop seems to be replicated in their living space, helped in no small part by their eclectic tastes in art.

Burch is a believer that you don’t have to hit a certain age or pay grade to begin collecting art. It can start with small things, acquired from friends. “I think the value it has is the value you give it,” he said.

Anita Miles has just recently started the process. She was new to collecting art when she and her husband purchased a home in Wilson two years ago. For inspiration, she started with one of the first pieces people see when they fly into Jackson Hole—the massive charred wood depiction of an eagle in mid-flight that hangs on a prominent wall at Jackson Hole Airport.

“It was just so stunning,” Miles said. “We wondered if this guy was local.” She obviously couldn’t purchase that piece, as it belongs to the airport, but she looked up the artist, Richard Painter. That led her to Diehl Gallery and owner Mariam Diehl, who represents Painter. Working with Diehl, Miles was able to decide on a 73-by-22-inch painting of a half-submerged wooden boat, also by Painter. It now hangs in one of the most visible places in the house—just above the fireplace. “That’s what our goal was, to find something for that spot,” Miles said.

The piece is entitled Deluge. “It has a story,” Miles said. “It’s this boat that’s been washed up on this shore. Maybe I was at a point in my life where I felt I had been battered around for a couple years.”

Miles has enjoyed the process of learning how to choose and buy art, which for her has involved getting to know the backstory behind each artist’s method. The next artist whose work she stumbled onto was Peter Hoffer, also represented by Diehl. Hoffer does a lot of landscapes. Miles liked a series of tree paintings he did that are covered with a slick glossy finish but have a scuffed-up surface. “The gloss gives it this really elegant feel to it, and yet he lets the paint underneath crack. It looks really weathered and rustic underneath.”

She and her husband decided on one that now hangs in their bedroom. “What I really liked about that one is that it could be morning, like dawn, or evening with a storm coming in,” Miles said. “Sometimes it looks really dark, but in the morning when the light’s coming in it looks really bright.”

She has since added pieces by Susan Goldsmith and Angie Renfro, among others. Miles and her husband Jim have, thankfully, similar tastes in art, which makes the process of deciding easier, she said. Being able to hang art in their home before purchasing it has been most helpful, she said, as has been the welcoming gallery scene in town. “What really helped the process along was that Jackson has so many amazing galleries,” Miles said. It can be quite overwhelming in Los Angeles, where the couple also lives, Miles said.

Marcia Taylor similarly got her start as a collector more than a decade ago by touring Jackson’s robust downtown gallery scene. Today, she is a trustee at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

From the beginning, she says she has been able to quickly judge whether a painting will work for her.

“I immediately know if I’m going to love it and I immediately know where I’m going to hang it,” Taylor said. “I think you buy art because it either speaks to you or it makes you feel good when you look at it. I found things that I knew I would enjoy.”

One of her first pieces was a painting by Z.S. Liang of an Indian in a canoe on a lake. “It’s very serene,” Taylor said. That’s why she and her husband Michael decided to hang it in the bedroom. They purchased a home south of Hoback Junction 12 years ago and have since filled it with art.

She also is a big fan of Wyoming landscape painter Tucker Smith and Chinese artist Mian Situ, whose more recent work consists of Western historical themes and American landscapes. Taylor quickly took to the art in Jackson Hole, and hasn’t looked back. “I just fell totally in love with Western art,” Taylor said. To her, the style tells a story.

But collecting also is about investment for her, which is something that must be carefully considered before a purchase. “I wanted to make certain that whatever I collect would hold its value,” she said.