Below is a guest post from the very talented Katie Polhemus of Sportsman’s Palette…enjoy and please see her bio at the end of the blog post!
Art for art’s sake is simply wonderful. Art in all its forms is beautiful, engaging, and culturally enriching. Plus, humans have quite literally been making art since the beginning of time. It’s an intrinsic part of being human – creativity is part of what defines us. To quote Robin Williams as John Keating, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” (Weir, 1989.)
The Sporting World – sporting pastimes being a true art form in and of themselves – has mastered, with aplomb, art for the sake of a story. It has mastered art not just for the sake of art, but for the sake of a moment, a memory, a feeling, a history. Like Arthur Shilstone’s bucolic Upstate New York fields where he spent his depression-era childhood hunting pheasants, or Sebastián Letelier’s majestic Norwegian rivers upon which he landed his first Atlantic salmon, or Claudio D’Angelo’s sublime Canadian wilderness where he spent his childhood filling sketchbooks with the beautiful, secretive world of the wildlife that lives there.
Since the advent of the genre in roughly the 18th century, the world of Sporting Art has mastered and fine-tuned the practice of capturing a precious, often intimate, and certainly fleeting moment and immortalizing it in visual form. And it’s not just any mundane way of documenting the sportsman’s beloved pastime – it’s a true fine art, and takes an artist a lifetime to master. It’s the apex of storytelling through fine art.
In the Sporting World, a work of art contains life far beyond the painting itself. It’s a way of illustrating an important story, in fine art form. The art is visually and aesthetically beautiful, yes, but what is perhaps more beautiful is the sense of place, time, history, and memory that it brings to the collector. It immortalizes the story that you want to tell.
For all the sportsmen and sportswomen out there who do want to start immortalizing their stories with a collection of art – at first it can seem daunting. The world of art is huge, with an endless supply of options. Even the Sporting Art World, a tiny niche within the greater art world, can seem overwhelming at first. As two professionals within this small niche, one a seasoned veteran with 30+ years of experience and the other with a younger vision and approach to the subject matter, we’ve broken down a few key points of art collecting that may help make it easier to approach the endeavor.
Firstly, start early and look often! You’re never too young to call yourself an art collector – no matter what type of art you collect. Always be on the lookout, and use every opportunity to your advantage. Art can be a wonderful financial investment, but, we believe more importantly, it is without a doubt one of the best emotional investments you can make. When you surround yourself with things you love and within which you find incredible beauty, the sun shines a little brighter.
Concerning the question of what exactly you should be looking for when you want to collect – Do I look for things that will match the visual aesthetic of my space and the things I’ve already collected? Or do I search for pieces with which I have a strong emotional connection, regardless of how well they ‘match’ my space and other pieces? The color scheme of Roger Blum’s ‘The Old Corn Field’ would go really well with the rest of my décor, but I really love ‘The Grouse Hunter’ because it reminds me of my old hunting dog – which one should I buy? In our professional opinions, the answer is: you should do what you want. We can’t, and shouldn’t (nor should anybody else) dictate how you collect. Gallerists and dealers exist to give you professional guidance and area expertise when you want it, but we can’t dictate exactly what you should or shouldn’t buy. We strongly believe that going with your gut will reward you in the long run – if you’d rather have a home and collection that has a cohesive style and color scheme, regardless of subject matter, then do that if it makes you happy. If you’d rather have a collection full of the subject matter you adore and connect with, regardless of a consistency in style, then do that if it makes you happy. It’s your money, your home, your collection.
That brings us to a more minor, but equally important, piece of the collecting puzzle – framing! A frame can quite honestly make or break the look of a painting. And this is where we lean much more heavily in one direction – framing for the piece, not for your collection. You’ll be much happier if you choose a frame perfect for the painting itself, rather than a frame that goes with the rest of your frames. And this is where it’s vitally important to work with gallerists, dealers, and artists who have great connections with great framers. There is a reason that framers are an entirely separate entity from dealers – framing in itself is an art form, and just like painting, it can take a lifetime to perfect the craft.
And finally, the big picture – define your collecting purpose. When you spend a lot of time, money, and effort on curating a personal collection, you want to make sure you’re building a collection that is unique to you and an honest reflection of your lived experience. So it’s important to start defining, either loosely or in stricter terms, what that collection might look like, and what purpose each piece might serve in your life. Maybe it’s an investment for future generations, maybe it’s a painting to commemorate one particular trip out in the field or on the stream, maybe it’s purely for the sheer beauty of a piece. And your purpose may change over time too – so it’s good to occasionally re-assess your intentions and goals. At the end of the day, challenging yourself to set these intentions, define some goals, and put your best interests at the forefront of your search will help you curate the most meaningful collection.
We are certainly biased, but we strongly believe that curating a personal art collection is a great joy in life. And that joy is especially true and elevated in the sporting world, when we collect pieces whose lives and stories extend far beyond the artwork itself – when we collect pieces that have as much a story to tell as we do.
Weir, P. (1989). Dead Poets Society. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
About father & daughter team Fred & Katie Polhemus of Sportsman’s Palette: Fred has been one of America’s leading experts on Contemporary Sporting Art for over 30 years, with expertise developed at companies and organizations such as The Orvis Company, Greenwich Workshop, and International Game Fish Association. His writing on Sporting Art has appeared in many publications including Gray’s Sporting Journal, The American Fly Fisher, Covey Rise, and Cowboys & Indians Magazine, among others. He penned Arthur Shilstone: A Lifetime of Drawing & Painting, the comprehensive book on the 70+ year career of premiere Sporting Art watercolorist Arthur Shilstone. Katie graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2019 with a degree in Linguistics. As someone who grew up surrounded by the genre, Katie aims to kindle a passion in Sporting & Landscape Art among younger generations. She was recently published in the Winter 2022 issue of The American Fly Fisher, profiling the South American Angling Artist Sebastián Letelier. Together, they represent over 24 of the top Contemporary Sporting Artists through Sportsman’s Palette, Inc. and The Orvis Sandanona Shooting Grounds in Millbrook, NY, providing specialized guidance to private and institutional Sporting Art collectors worldwide. Fred currently resides in the northwest hills of Connecticut and can be reached at (802) 598-8301 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and Katie currently resides in the greater Boston area and can be reached at (802) 598-0996 or email@example.com. Available work can be viewed at sportsmanspalette.com.