You Pays Your Money: Accumulating, Decorating & Collecting, Part Three

Wildenhain collector Robert Johnson reports his first piece of Frans Wildenhain ceramics was a lamp base.

He bought it in 1955 at Shop One, Wildenhain’s innovative Rochester, NY craft retail store, for a perfectly good reason: he needed a lamp.

And the Wildenhain lamp base, he said, was ready-to-go. It was wired-up and with a light fixture. All it needed was a bulb and shade and it would be ready for installation in his apartment.

[Readers will recall that Mr. Johnson was the generous donor of his Wildenhain collection, numbering 331 pieces, to RIT in 2010. The exhibition drew primarily from that collection.]

At that stage of his life, it is fair to say, Mr. Johnson fit the Decorating mode.

As he reports in his interview (published in the exhibit’s accompanying catalog), Johnson didn’t know anything about ceramics at the time. In fact, he was far more interested in music, especially, and in starting his career as an optical engineer at Eastman Kodak.

He just needed a lamp, for Pete’s sake!

But the collecting “bug” had bitten. They’re subtle, those collecting bugs. They sneak up on you. Often when you least expect it.

Few regret it. No one gets inoculated for it. Most enjoy it – acquiring the collection, owning the collection, displaying the collection, living with the collection.

But for those who are not collectors – are there such people? – the behavior is sometimes hard to understand.

We all accumulate. Though some regret the process or the pile, maybe both. We all decorate. Some with more success or flair than others. But we don’t all collect.

I suppose that sounds elitist.

It is. As is the behavior.

Not necessarily better or worse. “Elitist” as in: a small fraction. In some cases, an incredibly small fraction of the population collecting a sub-sub category of an obscure subdivision of an esoteric sidebar.

Not a ceramics collector. Or a mid-century modern ceramics collector. Or a collector of studio pottery from mid-century.

Johnson collected the work of one potter at one (albeit lengthy and the most prolific) point in the potter’s career.

As my grandmother used to say: you pays yer money and you takes yer cherses.

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