“An art collection has a life of its own. As I’ve often told people, when you get to be a senior collector, your collection dictates to you who —that is, what other objects— it will allow to come into its presence.”
Art collector and former museum curator, Ed Wade began collecting works of art in the 1950s, when he was just 3 years old. His Native American nanny, of the Cahuilla tribe in Southern California, made him tiny woven baskets for his birthday. From then on, he became hooked on U.S. indigenous art.
Ed’s wife, Carol Haralson, lives with him and their collection of over 500 works – with about 150 of them being pieces of Native American pottery.
“Ed’s the real collector here, but it turns out that I have been collecting in ways I didn’t realize,” says Carol. As a book designer, Carol has enjoyed making 3D montages around the house that involve the beautiful items the couple has acquired. “Sometimes, it’s even porcupine quills or bird’s nests – things that just want to be sitting together on the same shelf. We collect life, really.”
Building a Home for a Collection
Ed’s collecting interest spans many areas, from paintings and prints, to Native American pottery and metalwork, to textiles, sculpture, and books on topics that relate to his primary interests. Today, he scans around 400 international auctions a day online, and has what he describes as a fairly long history with Invaluable for acquiring materials.
“The important thing about Native American art, the indigenous art of our nation, is that it is far more than tourist curios. The talented native people who made it were artists as complex and sophisticated as those from any other time and place in history,” says Ed. “One can easily spend a 7-figure number to acquire truly masterpiece quality Native American art. We’re talking about superlative work.”
Having first met at a museum – Ed, then a curator, and Carol, in charge of interpretive graphics and publications – the collecting duo built their home to be “a wunderkabinett, a cabinet of wonders.”
“Having a museum background was key here; people walk in our house and say that it looks like a museum. In a sense, it is. We carefully designed the house to manifest what in our view would be the perfect way to see art.”
“While we like to please our visitors, the house is more a way for us to live with our hundreds of what I call ‘children.’ We also have a substantial book collection, so most rooms have at least a small library area. Ed has a very strong library of art-related materials, and I have one devoted to projects I produced for museums, chefs, photographers, and others, plus poetry, fiction, culinary histories, and favorites such as the antique fairy tale books that came down through my family,” says Carol.
And as Ed’s collecting origins date back to when he was just 3 years old, Carol’s do as well – in a somewhat different manner. “My earliest memory related to anything aesthetic is from when I was a child, around age 3 or 4, sitting outside in the grass with a stack of magnolia leaves. I used these leaves as pages of a ‘book,’ binding them together with grape vines. Today, I’m a book designer. I feel so lucky to get to do the work I was born to do.”
Carrying Out a Mission
While most of the objects in their home arrived through Ed’s collecting passion (mixed in with Carol’s eclectic treasures), they both are very involved in arranging and presenting the collection. The 3D montages in every corner of the home, says Carol, serve as a “perfect fusion” of their two distinct tastes.
“Our collection is everything we love, how we see, what we feel is poignant, sometimes what we think is funny.” One montage, she notes, showcases a number of items in pairs – shells, stones, pots, porcupine quills, dove feathers. “It’s a montage on marriage.”
But on a grander scale, the couple says that every object in their collection needs to feel like it fits; it needs to have a purpose, it needs to have a sort of symbiotic relationship in a non-living sense. Charmingly personifying their treasured works (or rather, their “children”), Ed and Carol say that everything must be married into the family in some way, and yet fan out its own multiple meanings. “You’d see a book differently if there weren’t multiple pages,” says Carol.
Ed, who consults with a number of major collectors, says that the first thing he emphasizes in creating this “marriage” is that you have to have a mission. “That mission has to have an intellectual core. The mission that I have is to find the finest examples of Pueblo pottery from 1500 AD to about 1900, that shows the height of their artistic expression. I am totally about aesthetics; I’m not an ethnographic collector who wants one specimen of everything.”
One part of their collection that they hold dear are 7 pieces of ceramics made by a sought-after Hopi potter, starting from the 1880s through the time the artist went blind in the 1920s. Her name is Nampeyo. “I believe that she is without question the greatest Native American ceramicist in history,” says Ed. “Her pieces are beautifully painted, fired in a coal atmosphere, and their shape is superb. She has an abstraction of design that is just incredible.”
In building their art collection over the years, Ed notes, “Carol and I are very democratic. When we acquire a new piece, I tend to find them, but we always have a discussion as to whether or not she will agree to live with it,” he laughs. “And sometimes, you’ll see the objects, buy them, bring them in, and suddenly, everybody else on the shelf says, ‘Oh, no, no, you’re not collecting that piece at all,’ as it doesn’t have the standards were striving towards. In a sense the mature collection starts asserting what you will collect.”
“For me, our collection enfolds and expresses themes and ideas in the same way that a book design does, or a piece of writing,” says Carol.
On Letting Go & Holding On: Tips for Collectors
Ed offers his clients the same response if they ask him if they should collect. “If they have to ask that question, then no, perhaps they shouldn’t collect,” he says.
Ed believes that collecting is an “act of love,” and how that act of love is carried out is similar to the way one finds his or her significant other. “It starts with attraction, picking the object out of a crowd. Captivation leads you to learn and understand what the object is, who made it, and where it came from. Lastly, if the object doesn’t bring you some sort of fulfillment, you should let it go.” Any serious collector, at one time in their life (at least), has sold pieces they have loved but grown beyond.
“You have to realize what degree of desire you really possess. Don’t get yourself stampeded into spending more than you can afford. That’s very easy to do, because in the heat of the moment at an auction, you can get crazed and buy something and realize immediately you’ll have to sell it as soon as you get it,” says Ed. “It is the mature collector that can put the paddle down.”
“For us, there’s also the reality of where we are in our lives right now,” adds Carol. “We’re not as young as we once were, so there comes a time when you’d rather collect an experience and you have to let go of the object to get the experience. Sometimes I have to remind Ed that he’s in the ‘catch and release’ phase of life, but it’s hard for him because he’s a born collector. And I found out that I was too, but not in the same way. But we did collect each other.”
Ed Wade and Carol Haralson were the winning collectors from the spring 2017 #InvaluableStyle contest. Want a chance to share your story on In Good Taste? Tell us why you collect in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.