Chamberlain Fine Art owner Kristan Chamberlain recently had the pleasure of interviewing contemporary art collector Karen Duddlesten. Their discussion explored Duddlesten’s passion for art, how it all started, and what type of work continues to excite and bring joy to her today.
KC: Can you remember a specific “aha moment,” as a child or as an adult, with a particular work or body of work that sparked your passion for art?
KD: In my 30’s, I was working for W.J. Bowen, CEO of a large energy company in Houston. He also happened to be a wonderful watercolorist. We would often travel to New York or Washington DC for business. During my first trip to New York, I had some time to visit Metropolitan Museum Of Art where there happened to be a wonderful Impressionism exhibit. I was speechless. The treatment of the fabrics, folds, lights, and shadows all had an incredible impact on me. It was at that moment I was hooked and began to understand what a skilled artist could do.
KC: How did you begin collecting?
I knew I couldn’t afford the kind of pieces I saw at The Met, so I (and my husband at the time), began to collect photography and paintings from local artists; works that were affordable for us. We visited Houston gallery exhibitions and openings regularly, and museums became our chief destinations when traveling.
KC: Who or what influenced your collecting most significantly?
KD: There were several people who greatly influenced my collecting. While working for Jack Bowen, he always made a point to find time, when we were traveling, to visit museums and galleries. During my time with him, he was working to complete the Transco Art Collection. He ultimately, had a tremendous impact on me. Also, since my husband was excited by collecting as much as I was, we spent much of our spare time together visiting galleries and local art shows. We enjoyed seeing young local artists, their studios, and exhibitions.
KC: What are the most important factors for you in choosing artwork?
KD: First, of course, I have to love looking at the piece. If I love it, I know it will always bring the same joy and excitement, as when I first laid eyes on it. For example, I have a wonderful painting of a young Indian girl. The child is in a bright orange outfit, holding her doll. It was painted by my Korean aesthetician, Euncha. I love everything about it and never tire of looking at it. Second, the piece has to be within my price range. There are many wonderful works out there, but ultimately, I want my collection to reflect my life and values.
KC: Does your collection have any particular focus or theme?
KD: There is no particular theme, but I primarily collect contemporary realism. I don’t think I own any abstract pieces. I buy what I like – what speaks to me.
KC: Is there a “pearl” for you within your collection?
KD: It has to be, Richard Avedon’s, “Dovima with Elephants.” I bought this from Dick Avedon in 1979 or 80 and never get tired of looking at it. Avedon had an exhibition at a gallery in Houston. My husband and I bought two of his works the opening night. It was quite a lot of money for us at the time, but I’m so glad I’ve got this wonderful photograph. This piece hangs in my Houston home and will go to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, upon my death.
Karen Duddlesten is the President of the Wayne B. Duddlesten Foundation. She shares her time between homes in Houston, TX and Bellingham, WA. Karen has been collecting art since the 1970's.