In our last blog post, we discussed ways in which to build a respectable collection. Today, we would like to raise the topic of private collections.

How many of you have seen an original Harada Houn doban, a hand-painted Yusen pot, a Tokufuji glaze up close, or a true chrysanthemum stone?  We recall having seen them in books but those photos simply don’t do justice to seeing them in person.  Our post today is going to suggest two ways for us to share our collections beyond a friend or two.

We often like to visit museums or art galleries to view the work of well to little known artist.  Recently the Dixon Gallery and Gardens located in Memphis, TN had a Rodin exhibit of some 60 pieces of his works.  We had only seen photos of his masterful sculptures before so it was a wonderful experience to see them up close.


There are museums in most major cities worldwide.  But a shift has occurred in the last 100 years where many of the top art collections are in private hands.   According to an article on the five most valuable art collections are now valued at over $11 billion dollars.

The other interesting trend is the number of private (single collector) collections being setup and earning the collector a sizable tax benefit.  Here is a quote from a New York Times article in January, 2015:

“Mr. Brant’s five-year-old museum, cloistered as it is, nonetheless is the beneficiary of what is in effect a federal subsidy. Operated by a nonprofit charitable foundation created and controlled by Mr. Brant, this cozy museum is tax-exempt. Wealthy collectors, of course, have long saved millions of dollars in federal taxes by donating art and money to museums and foundations. But what distinguishes Mr. Brant’s center and a growing number of private tax-exempt exhibition spaces like it is that their founders can deduct the full market value of any art, cash and stocks they donate, even when the museums are just a quick stroll from their living rooms.”

There are countless other collections some open to the public and some not.  I recall when working at Corbis, we gained permission to photograph the Barnes Collection outside of Philadelphia.  If you don’t know the story of this collection it is worth Googling it.

He amassed an incredible collection of post-impressionist and early-modern art. More than 3,000 masterpieces, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modigli­anis, and 7 Van Goghs, plus textiles, metalwork, decorative objects, African sculpture, Native American ceramics and jewelry, and Pennsylvania German furniture.  We convinced the foundation to allow us to photograph some 300 works to create a CD called A Passion for Art.  At the time it was the top selling art CD at Microsoft moving more than 250,000 copies.  We actually built in a back-door on the CD to access our archive of hundreds more of his paintings because we knew that few would ever visit the museum itself.

At this point you might ask “what has this got to do with anything?”  Many of the readers to our blog are in fact collectors of stones, bonsai pots, stands and the like.  We each tend to collect what we like and I would suggest that most of it is hidden away unseen by anyone including often ourselves.

Sharing our Collections

Our first suggestion, which you may already do, is to open up your home to share your collections to others.  Use them as a invitation to create interest.  I recall sharing with a young man at our home our love for stones.  He saw them in our house, in our garden and in our greenhouse.  It led to him asking questions and then expressing interest.  We then invited him to go collecting with us and he obliged.  Is he going to be an avid stone collector – likely not but he did become educated in the beauty of them and his eye improved to the extent that he collected some very lovely stones.

If there is a show in town, be it bonsai or viewing stone related, offer to open up your home to those guests to enjoy and hear about your collection.  Share and educate your visitors while at the same time learning from those visitors.  Ryan Bell visited our home a few months ago,, and took some time to look at a few of our bonsai pots and quickly helped identify a few potters for us that we were unaware of even though we had their pots in our collection.

Open Up our Shows or Create New Ones

The second suggestion is for us to open our shows, or even create new ones, to display portions of our collections.  There are numerous high quality bonsai shows across the country.  I have asked this simple question: Why don’t we use that opportunity to combine these shows and show art in similar form?  If it is a bonsai show why not also display suiseki, bonsai containers and the like.  Offer a program of education about these subjects be it a introductory course or an in-depth dive into a specific subject.

Yes, I can hear the howls right now – who is paying for this?  Where do we get the space?  Who gets to decide what is shown? All reasonable questions.

Perhaps we who collect should consider having a show every few years where we combine the best of what we have to create a wonderful show.  Should we actively talk to one of our local museums to see if they can host a show?

For example, I applaud Christina Linden, the museum’s Associate Curator for Painting and Sculpture, for setting up an exhibit which included suiseki at the Oakland Museum:

If you live in the Bay Area please support and visit it.

How many of you would attend a show in the US that combined exhibits of the best bonsai, bonsai containers, viewing stones, suibans, dobans and the like?  How many of us have flown to Japan to attempt to see this very thing!

Do we have “the answer” – frankly no.  But we are hoping to create a dialog around this subject to see what others think and to learn what others are doing.  Please email us and let us help share what shows you are planning. If you have an interest in opening up your show to a wider art form let’s discuss that too.