Monday, May 19, 2014

Muddy Monday: Collector Gatherings

Alternate Title: How To Have Fun Without A Show Nucleus

I will intersperse personal experiences with the tips on how to organize it. Rather than a report that might inspire envy, the aim is to encourage you to arrange your own gathering, in your own neighborhood. The intent of collector gatherings is not to replace shows. If anything, it augments one's overall hobby experience. The pressure and crowding of a show is not for everyone. There are some friends I only get to see in this tour setting, because it is within their comfort level.

1. Select a geographic region that has several collectors willing to have visitors view their private collections. This is your gathering's range. Some areas of this country have four or five, all within an hour of each other.

To further qualify stops on the tour, it is most convenient if the selected collections are all out on display. Even if their collections aren't unpacked or displayed, the collectors themselves may want to participate on the tour as visitors, which is fine. It's not ideal to go box by box, although it has been done before without damage. Comfort levels are much better for everyone when the collections are behind glass and don't need to be touched.

I feel that gatherings are a fantastic way to learn, and to find new material to share with you, via this blog. I currently participate in one annual tour in the DC area. I already host a ceramics show every so often, but a multi-collection tour has a whole different vibe to it. It's an addition to the hobby experience that I love so much, I just want to make more of them happen.

2. Ideally, there is a percentage of overlap between collection foci within the tour, so that there is a chance to see variants of some editions, while also seeing the works of multiple manufacturers and artists.

For example, the DC tour has collectors with overlap in collecting Hagen-Renaker, bone chinas, European porcelains, artist resins, animal art, and custom glazes. Individuals also have unique flavors they bring to the tours, such as sci-fi and fantasy art, Native American art, canine artifacts and collectibles, bronzes, dolls, glass, and even Tiki mugs. 

3. To get everyone out together and seeing the sights, replace a show/competition with another event: a birthday celebration; an antiques show; a flea market weekend; a real horse farm tour or show.

A gathering or tour doesn't need an event to give it a reason, but it does help if everyone can get the time off from work for the same days. If weather does not permit attending an outdoor event, pick a home where everyone can meet.

4. Invite new people to participate. It's not a better gathering if it has record attendance, but it is nice to hear new opinions and see different things.

There will always be an ebb and flow of the participants each year, as their personal schedules allow. Generally speaking, those who are interested in getting together to learn and see collections tend to be over the age of 18, so we've had no concerns of liability for damage caused by a minor. We are all adults, and aware that we are personally responsible for our actions or accidents. If you start a tour, you may wish to generate a liability release and parent/guardian responsibility document if minors will be included. I only mention this because I was interested in ceramics as a minor, so there may be others out there. However, it is doubtful that grabby infants and toddlers, young children, or even adults who can't keep hands off of stuff, will be invited to such breakable events.

5. Each person is bringing their unique perspective, experiences, "sightings in the wild" of collectibles, and their items for show & tell. It's important to take turns and let everyone have the floor.

6. This sounds silly, but learn from my repeated error: carry throat lozenges. With like-minded people and no rushing to and from judging tables, you will talk a lot more than usual. You may lose your voice after a couple days of this.

7. Get an idea of everyone's food preferences and dietary restrictions in advance, so it's easier to choose restaurants or plan meals. Some gathering locales have more restaurant choices than others. Where I live is pretty limited without a minimum 30-minute drive!

8. Bring stuff. I 'd suggest bringing several types of things: gifts for everybody or personalized gifts for individuals; paper leave-behinds for future contact (business cards, etc.); show & tell from your personal collection that is best viewed in-person.

Even if you are flying to the destination, you can fit some vintage photos, or maybe photos burned on gift discs, buttons or medallions, business cards, etc. in your carry-on. Even though you are going to go see things, it's nice to bring things!

This reunion photo was possible only at a tour gathering.
These are three horses personally glazed by the sculptor, Maureen Love.
L-R: models courtesy Elizabeth Bouras, Jo Ellen Arnold, and Keith Bean.

9. Be ready to be happy and gain so much more from the gathering than you ever thought possible. You will learn new things. Mysteries will be solved by someone else's experiences that they never thought to mention before. You will see cool stuff, some of it stuff never seen by anyone but the owner. You will absolutely be surprised by something. You will wish you had a recording of it all, to play back at will.

Something unusual that you will get to see at a collection tour is a rare Hagen-Renaker family, or pair, together. As "collector's classes", a group entry of 8 or more models, have fallen out of fashion in favor of individual horse Collectibility qualifying, it is now unusual to see rare colors of families displayed together at shows. Tours are just full of them!

Models courtesy Janet Hicks.

10. Be super flexible. It takes flexibility from all parties to put together a weekend of three or more collections on a tour.

11. Mutual respect is expected, regarding photographs and any handling of collectibles. These are so important, especially in today's internet, and the sticky situations of liability for damage to handled items. If someone doesn't want to pose in a group photo, don't harry them. If they ask you to not photograph their collection or home, do not do it. It is the height of rudeness to post photos of someone's collection anywhere without their express permission. It is also grounds for exclusion from further tours. If someone gives you verbal permission to touch an item, it is OK. If none is given, the default setting is touch nothing. Don't fingerprint their glass, and don't try to open anything without asking for help.

At a show, there is tolerance for people asking if items are for sale, or what their value may be. In someone's private home, it is not cool to ask if something is for sale. Exceptions may be if the owner has told you "This group/cabinet is for sale", or you know that the owner is the source for the exact items via public sale (Special Run dealer or ceramist).

Some things are so rare and delicate that only the owner should touch them. If the owner is afraid to move the object, or move other items around it, don't press them. They know the delicacy of that particular piece best.

Model courtesy Elizabeth Bouras.

Shows are fun, but they are not the only reason to visit with friends and spend all day talking about the art and animals we love. Thank you, DC crew! The tour is the highlight of my year.

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