How High WASPs Hang Art In Their Houses


What High WASPs don’t do is buy art from a furniture store. Enough said.

Now, some of us have collections. Real collections, of the sort that wind up in museums when the estate tax proves too onerous, or warrant their very own auction. For example, if my dear friend Reggie Darling ever decides to be done with collecting, an auction house could have a field day up at Darlington House.

The Artsy, as one would expect, amass art on their travels. Their unerring eye affords them treasures where the rest of us might wonder quite where to put that teal papier-maché spirit animal.

But most commonly, High WASPs, especially those of us with fading family fortunes, buy or are given art from friends and family.  Let me not forget economic exigencies, in portraying my culture’s obsession with good taste.

Since I moved back into my house, this trio has hung on one of my small walls.

Art grouping on living room wall

The painting at right is a present from my father, of Martha’s Vineyard, where he used to have a place. The artist? Christie Scheele. My brother gave me the retablo below, one Christmas. I had it framed in heavy gilt. Folk art is as worthy of gold as anything.

The blackbird in a tree was a present from an old friend, painted by someone she knew. He frames his own paintings, also gilded. Redwing blackbirds are a sign of wildness in California; they live in places not yet wholly overrun.

But change is coming. Following the discovery of Lily Stockman, I became obsessed with her paintings. Then I bought one. First new piece of art in 25 years, other than my stepmother’s glorious photos.

It’s called, Her Favorite Time Of Day. This closeup shows the role of brushstrokes, even though the color is of course not quite right in my photo.

Only now as I write do I see the darkness in my other pieces, dispelled. And yet all these paintings share a mode of import, it seems to me. Semiotic landscapes, an imagined perfect country with something haunting the scene. Things float, rivers lead elsewhere. Now the sun seems simply to have risen.

So I will rehang my paintings, putting some over the mantelpiece, moving one or two of the 600 photos of my children into my study, changing juxtapositions one way or another. It’s a very unconscious approach to walls. There’s no theme, no studied approach to color, little intent. And as unconscious processes often are, revealing.

I recommend this way of proceeding with walls. It may mean a lot of empty white space, for a while, but you wind up with vivid colored fragments, transparent passages to other spaces and yourself.

39 Comments

  • 08/24/11
    7:33 am

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    Jan said...

    We have two of what you call “furniture store paintings” in our dining room. They’re not exactly what you’d call busy, but are only there because the frames and matting go with the color scheme in that room so well. The paintings themselves will be replaced eventually when I find the right art; in the meantime they’re inoffensive enough to remain where they are.

    The rest of the artwork on our walls are paintings and prints we picked up while traveling (I have some lovely, funky “creole cooking” pieces from New Orleans in my kitchen), photos of our children and grandchild, and landscapes my mother painted the last few years of her life. They’re not particularly good (they’re not particularly bad, either), but they’re the only possessions of hers I received when she died. They stay.

  • 08/24/11
    7:41 am

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    AJ said...

    My art collection, as a single and broke girl living in New York, is somewhat limited at the moment. I have one Guayasamin canvas print my father brought me from Ecuador, a huge gold and yellow print of a fire escape that dominates one wall (and that, yes, I bought on sale at CB2), and a currently unhung tapestry in shades of red and purple that came from a market in Ecuador. When the tapestry goes up, I’ll have my living room art done.

    The Ecuador theme continues with a pair of botanical framed tiles I bought from a ceramic artist outside of Cuenca last summer. Someday I will hang them in the kitchen. I haven’t yet decided what I want to do in the bedroom, but since I’m considering downgrading to a studio, that might not be a problem next year.

  • 08/24/11
    7:44 am

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    kathy peck leeds said...

    Love the trio of paintings in the first photograph. I know of Reeve Schley’s work, as we have a home on Martha’s Vineyard (although trying to sell it, and consolidate). Where was your dad’s home there? Ours is in Chilmark. For whatever reason, I like Lily Stockman, but it doesn’t grab me. I think the painting you bought is (of the one’s I’ve seen) the best though. Your step-mother’s photographs are amazing, and I’ve thought about her “Magnolia” for a long time now. Once we consolidate, if we have any wall space left, it might be something I’d like to have, as it hasn’t left my mind. Are you going to frame the Lily Stockman, or leave it as is? Wish the color could be better seen.

  • 08/24/11
    7:49 am

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    Missy said...

    I may not have the means for amazing art, but I always buy art from local art shows like Detroit’s Arts, Beats and Eats, or the Ann Arbor art fair. My other choice is a print of my favorite works, but always framed professionally.

  • 08/24/11
    8:01 am

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    Raulston said...

    Bonjour et bonne journée ma chère! This is why I never cease frequenting your site. Another superb rendering of tu ma chère.

  • 08/24/11
    8:14 am

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    Erin said...

    I have a houseful of inherited art. Most of it is cherished and enjoyed daily. If you live with the right pieces it increases the blissful sense of sanctuary a home should provide. Over time, the artworks weave themselves into conversations. My only longing is a periodic one for blank wall space.

    I love the trio you have in the first photo. They are each stunning. Indulge my boldness in suggesting you try hanging the blackbird under the retablo. It may create a pleasing sense of balance or it may remove the slight edginess which makes the vignette compelling. I’m curious.

    Enjoying your posts on mothering also!

  • 08/24/11
    8:24 am

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    Flo said...

    Nothing compares to the inexplicable feeling of oneness with a work of art, you’ve mentioned this artist before, I can sense your euphoria over its arrival! Hurrah!

    This High Artsy makes her own, makes it, mounts it and frames it herself. I just finished my summer project of pressing local leaves, very high touch as it turned out and time consuming but now hung all together at last they cover one entire wall, end-to-end. I think I’ll send you a pic under separate cover since it’s Share Your Art Day @ Privilege.

  • 08/24/11
    8:25 am

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    hostessofthehumblebungalow said...

    Will you frame your new painting?
    I would like to see it illuminated by a picture light or a pot light shining in it’s direction.
    The colours look like they are bright and it will make quite a statement…
    is it an image from India? I see that the artist was studying there on a grant.

  • 08/24/11
    8:25 am

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    beautifuldreamer1066 said...

    I must channel Artsy Cousin when it comes to things to hang on walls. Mostly, I have reprints of posters by Alphonse Mucha as well as several of those turn of the last century romantic medieval-type numbers. I do have one item, a hand-made scroll, done in medieval calligraphy and period style guache paint — complete with wax seal — given to me via my historical re-creation playmates. The framing and matting was over $300 so I suppose that counts as “high art”?

  • 08/24/11
    8:46 am

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    Susan Tiner said...

    I love your new painting, and I used to take the same approach with white walls, when I had white wall space. I think of it as an art gallery approach.

  • 08/24/11
    8:58 am

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    valentine said...

    I love white walls with paintings! It seems to me your new art reflects the new you…lighter, less moody, more hopeful…younger outlook.

  • 08/24/11
    9:05 am

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    Lara of Long Beach said...

    I have a very small hallway, about 4X7 feet, in my Craftsman apartment. I have “papered” it with fabric -tiny brown and gold flowers on a black background. White ceiling with crown molding and gold trim. It is chock-o-block with: my mother’s painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, a wood cutting of Ganesh (colorfully painted and gilded as the Hindus are wont to do), photos (of sea turtles in Maui, waterfalls, portraits of pets and people), some giclee prints of Lord Frederic Leighton (Crenaia-Nymph of the Dargle, Music Lesson, Study: At a Reading Desk), and most everything is framed in heavy gilt which pops nicely against the dark fabric. There is lots more artwork in every room, but this is my Art Gallery.

  • 08/24/11
    9:20 am

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    déjà pseu said...

    Your art is fabulous, Lisa. So very You.

    We’ve begun collecting vintage poster art, and now buy art of some kind whenever we travel. We don’t limit ourselves to any one style or genre, but go with whatever appeals and our budget can bear. We’ve also inherited some pieces (probably none of any value other than sentimental).

    I just recently added two new pieces we bought in Venice which meant moving everything around. It was a good exercise and I’m happy with the results. Everything looks new and fresh in new locations and arrangements.

  • 08/24/11
    9:24 am

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    ms Givens said...

    AMEN! No furniture store prints, no Kirklands. I have art collected in every room. I change my rooms according to the art I own. However I am not a high WASP.

  • 08/24/11
    9:37 am

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    Staircase Witch said...

    Do people really buy paintings in furniture stores? I thought the point of furniture was to go with one’s art, not the other way round.

    The Lily Stockman painting is gorgeous and makes one long to be on a desert hillside in the Sonoran or the Mojave watching the sunset. I wish I could have had one of the Agro Pop pieces–it’s just the sort of thing for a naturalized Midwesterner to hang on her wall (to us, grain silos are “prairie cathedrals”).

  • 08/24/11
    9:52 am

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    Marcy Simmons said...

    How funny–when I read the title I took it to mean, How high to hang the art on the walls…which, by the way I have some knowledge of, as a local museum curator once came to my house to help me hang our art.
    We have collected a few local artists, and have art on every wall of the house. I love moving the pieces around to keep them new in our minds’ eye.
    And the secret is that the center of the painting should be at eye level. Unless of course, you are doing a grouping, then it’s— whateveh!
    Love your trio at the top. But I can see that the Stockman teams well with the retablo. Great post today.

  • 08/24/11
    10:11 am

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    Stephanie @ La Dolce Vita said...

    Yes! this is just right. Art should evolve, have meaning, speak to us, not just match the sofa cushions. Art from a furniture store? no. I am considering my empty spaces. Itching to pick up my brush again. Pondering what will be…

  • 08/24/11
    10:40 am

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    That's Not My Age said...

    Your absolutely right – most of my art has been given to me by an artist friend, or Mr TNMA! Love the Lily Stockman painting.

  • 08/24/11
    10:44 am

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    Jen said...

    Love the painting by Reeve Schley. Absolutely wonderful – could easily see something like that in my home.

  • 08/24/11
    11:34 am

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    Parnassus said...

    No matter how what art you have, pieces by someone you know always have a special value.

    The gilt frame on the blackbird painting is about the most elegant I’ve ever seen–I can see the artist in the frame as well as in the atmospherically moody painting itself.

    –Road to Parnassus

  • 08/24/11
    11:38 am

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    Parnassus said...

    You are lucky to have only aesthetic decisions to make as you hang your art. Here in Taiwan, I have plenty of walls and plenty of art, but hung objects attract bihu, small lizards which are not frightening but are unsanitary and make loud noises during the night.
    –Road to Parnassus

  • 08/24/11
    12:30 pm

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    metscan said...

    The blackbird in the tree is my favorite of the paintings you show today.
    It would be great to see the room, where the paintings are hung.

  • 08/24/11
    12:58 pm

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    DocP said...

    I have an eclectic mix. Some enlarged photos from my travels, some 19th century lithographs (inherited), a Persian print, an oil by a South African artist purchased at an open air market in Durban and a Chinese silk embroidered painting that cost 10x as much to simply frame as it did to buy. I love them all.

  • 08/24/11
    1:50 pm

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    materfamilias said...

    Lovely! We have quite a few paintings, several by my very good friend who is an accomplished artist, and quite a few by students whose art I’ve learned of through our university Art department annual show. Some of them I’ve taught which makes their work more meaningful to me, but I wouldn’t buy it solely for that reason — I have to like it as well. I’d highly recommend student art shows (at a reasonably respected institution) as a way of acquiring art on a budget. We bought large pieces (at a Vancouver art school, not my own) a few years ago for under a thousand each — that young man has since gone on to command astronomically higher prices and is sought after by NY and international collectors. But the bottom line, regardless of cost or resale value, has to be love; I have to want to look at the art every single day — I could easily look at all four you’ve shown here, day in, day out, for years and years . . .

  • 08/24/11
    4:13 pm

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    RoseAG said...

    I wish I knew how to miter corners! Framing is so expensive. I’m a bit matchy so I like to tie works together with frames that are similar, but not identical. EXCEPT that you can spend an arm and a leg getting mats and frames done up right. Nothing I’ve ever acquired has been a size that a pre-made mat/frame would fit.

    You shouldn’t be afraid to paint your walls colors. I can’t remember if you hit the National Gallery this past spring when you visited DC, but their interiors looks like a Benjamin Moore wet dream.

  • 08/24/11
    6:13 pm

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    The Cake said...

    These are BEAUTIFUL! Lily Stockman is so great.

  • 08/24/11
    7:59 pm

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    Charlotte Holmes said...

    My son’s a painter, and we’re fortunately his storage space of choice. He moved last month (to attend grad school) and we came into possession of a whole new crop of paintings. I like to move the paintings around because I think you see them differently when they’re in different places. Once you start walking past without paying attention, they need a new site. Having real paintings (as opposed to posters) is an exquisite privilege.

  • 08/24/11
    9:11 pm

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    Latha said...

    I like art which carry personal stories. I love anything with a sense of legacy. I prefer original work – in fact, I took up painting to fill the budget gap as a graduate student:) Now I have a seascape that I did juxtaposed with a desert landscape that an ex (who is a renowned local artist) gave me. They are both the same size, unframed but complement each other really well. My also does 3D mining houses and so I have four of them on one of the narrower pillars/walls. They reflect this region’s history. I have a couple of more pieces that were presents from him that hang in other rooms. Big perk of dating a penniless artist:)

    On another wall, I have a beautiful picture of a crocodile done by a cuban artist that was given to my son by his godfather, who is my close friend. The nicest part about this picture is that this is on loan to me until my son goes to college. This picture used to hang on my friend’s dorm wall! There is also a letter behind the picture frame for my son to read when he is ready to go to college. I live in a economically depressed society, so I try to patronize the local artists.

    My son is also an artist, so I have his pieces on the wall along the stairs, in his room, and my office. He is nine now and the various pieces illustrate his growth as an artist. The last couple of pieces that he has done are outstanding – one a self portrait as Luke Skywalker in oil and the other self-portrait of himself in five different moods in water color. I am still looking for a nice frame for the watercolor.

    I love your posts:) Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to look at my house/life with new eyes!

  • 08/25/11
    5:58 am

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    MJ said...

    I particularly like the Schley. I would have hung those three items with the Schley on the left and the blackbird on the bottom as to me it has more visual weight – but perhaps that betrays a certain rigidity on my part? Lovely items, and I hope your rearrangement helps you look at everything with a fresh eye.

  • 08/25/11
    6:37 am

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    Ida said...

    The Blackbird with the misty background has a haunting quality which appeals to me.

    The favourite time of day painting to me does not need a frame. Ida

  • 08/25/11
    7:23 am

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    Mouse said...

    YOU BOUGHT ONE! I AM SO JEALOUS! I love her stuff.

  • 08/25/11
    8:35 am

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    Laura said...

    I love to purchase artwork. I mix everything up on our walls and it all seems to be happy together. Kind of like books mingling in a bookshelf….

  • 08/25/11
    10:11 am

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    Jessica said...

    Love Lily’s work…and her blog, and I love the painting you purchased. Her colors are always so happy and soft which balance out the realism of the subjects, so wonderfully done!
    I really like how you had your artwork grouped…it will be fun to see what you come up with next and how your new painting mingles with it’s new family.
    Congratulations…
    xo J~

  • 08/25/11
    10:14 am

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    Mary Jo said...

    Congrats on your new piece! This post was really interesting to me, hanging art is so personal and actually can be quite difficult. I lived with bare walls for 3 years in my living room before suddenly hanging 5 pieces–I guess I can take perfectionism to a new level, or laziness. Anyway, I like all your pieces and agree that rotating is key and says so much about where we are mentally and emotionally.

    xo Mary Jo

  • 08/25/11
    5:32 pm

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    Terri said...

    The new piece reminds me of the light in Edward Hopper paintings (Room by the Sea). Most of what hangs on my walls would be art I’ve purchased from budding young artists on our campus.

  • 08/26/11
    2:30 am

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    Shelley said...

    I laughed when I read the beginning sentence. I don’t buy furniture in furniture stores either! Most of what is in my house was either thrifted, made or inherited. Most of the ‘art’ is either painted by my Mom (doodles she never considered would be framed), needlework either she or I did, or a piece from an arts festival or memento of travel from Venice, New Orleans, Dublin or Malta, or some print or other that has been in Bill’s family for ages. I quite like blank walls, but that’s probably because my house is generally quite cluttered…still working on that. It’s been fun to mentally drift through the house trying to remember where we got things.

  • 08/26/11
    3:52 am

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    Reggie Darling said...

    Hello My Dear,
    I am just back from several weeks of infrequent Internet access, so am a bit late to this party. Thanks for the lovely compliment, which return to you in spades. I love your new painting, and believe it is a marvelous addition to your collection. With fond regards, Reggie

  • 08/26/11
    6:16 am

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    Duchesse said...

    Your new painting is full of lightness and mystery; a wonder!

    I like to buy art to mark life passages (even if known only to ones’ self) and encourage all to do the same.

    For experiments and learning, I find art rental services at museums wonderful. At many, you can buy the piece if you fall in love with it.

  • 08/29/11
    8:53 am

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    Lisa said...

    Thank you all so much for contributing your own walls, in words, to this post. Please note that I’ve edited here – I was wrong about the artist for one of the paintings.

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