We sat down to talk with Michael and John Sammler-Jones recently to chat about the artwork they have collected over the years and to find out a little bit about what has driven them to accumulate the art in their home. Michael has served as board chair at the Soo Visual Arts Center and currently sits on the board of the Minnesota Museum of American Art. John doesn’t really consider himself a collector. He tends to collect animals more than art, but has had a hand in steering their collection none the less. They describe themselves as quiet collectors with modest intentions, contrasting boldly with the wonderful and ambitious collection that adorns the walls in their home.
Rosalux: What is the first work of art that you bought? What is it that spurred you into making the purchase?
Michael: When I First started collecting it was prior to John and prior to any influences with SooVAC. I walked into Gallery 360 one day in Edina and saw a piece by Gregory Euclide. It was when he was experimenting with landscapes and layers. The woman at the gallery knew a lot about him and started to explain his background and that he was starting to become more popular and starting to sell himself more. What I bought I thought was great and was only $250 at the time and I thought for sure that it was approachable and O.K. Quite honestly there was some guilt involved because of all the time the women spent talking to me about it that I felt obligated to buy it. The interest in art had always been there, but the idea of buying something original, something local and hearing a little backstory to it started to interest me more.
Rosalux: Were you Thinking about it terms of a home furnishing or just like an object you were attracted to?
Michael: It has always started with something I liked which goes back to that advice you always hear, buy what you like. I didn’t think the idea of buying art for investments sake doesn’t sounded genuine. I guess if something we had bought turned out to have some sort of investment quality that would be great, but that has never been the impetus for purchasing something ever.
Rosalux: How would you describe any theme or style for your collection?
Michael: John brought to our collection an interest in Charlie Harper Serigraphs which started with his mom which I definitely found myself liking because of its graphic nature and if you look around that is what you see a lot of. My interest in graphic design is natural, I can't explain why I have an attraction to some of it, the art just showed me the math in a way. You’ll also see pieces that reference back to nature and ecology as well.
John: My collection I wouldn’t even call a collection. My first piece of art was buying a soapstone sculpture in northern Canada because I did my masters research there. I realized it matched some pieces my mom had which I took when she passed. It became a thing, every time I was up in Northern Canada I would pick up another piece when I was there, my interests are more in nature and science, anything with animals. I wouldn’t have called it art collecting at the time but I just kept buying more, I wasn’t very thoughtful about it then.
Michael: You’ll also find things that are just a little bit quirky, not in terms of outsider because I don’t think it’s there, but definitely like in the Erin Curry pieces that are a little odd that I wouldn’t really call surreal either.
Rosalux: What influenced you along your journey as an art collector?
Michael: Being a part of SOOVAC definitely changed the way I collect art. A lot of our collection was acquired from shows there. Being friends with Suzy (Greenberg) is a big part of it, she loved getting people like me to be appreciative of art and make it less intimidating. We are quiet collectors and Soovac has that storefront feel, it is not intimidating to walk into, which really taught me to be comfortable. Her example is something we have tried to emulate in regards to patronage.
Rosalux: Is the community you have found in places like SOOVAC a big part of what drives you to collect art?
Michael: Yes, but i think it has evolved. I used to think it was to be part of the scene and to go to every opening and meet every artist but that takes a lot of time. You see people who do that, I’d Like it to be a hobby like that for us but ….
John: We’re too anti - social.
Rosalux: Do you have any regrets in your collection, has collecting ever gotten contentious in your relationship?
Michael: The fact that John hates the Deuce 7, I love. It is heavy, it’s big, and it’s one of my favorite pieces because he hates it so much. It gets such a reaction. It hasn’t been contentious to our relationship, I just have to put it somewhere he doesn't have to see it. Friends and family are in his camp though, they all don’t like it .
Rosalux: Do you like to know the history of an object before you consider it for your collection or do you respond to the presence of the object itself?
Michael: Not necessarily, if there is something interesting about it sure, that makes a difference. I’m not an impulsive person except when buying art, I dont go back and think should I get it, like I might do with everything else, but with art if I really like it, chances are I’m buying it. I’ll ask John if he likes it and he may say,”meh” and I'll buy it anyway.
John: I do the same things with him with dogs, i like them and i just bring them home. With art, I want more story, I like to know what they were thinking, what the idea is behind the art. Maybe there isn’t any idea but if there is I like to know that.
Rosalux: Where are you going to find the art that you collect? Is it galleries, studio visits, thrift stores, auctions?
Michael: Anything and everything is open, I would love to do studio tours but I don’t want to bother the artist. I have gone to studios with a group for tours but I would never ask an artist for a studio visit because I would go in feeling obligated to buy something. I usually go back to the approachable galleries.
Rosalux: How do you describe yourselves as collectors, do you think of yourselves as collectors even?
Michael: people had to tell me that I was one,...
John: I am a collector only by marriage, but I have heard enough people refer to Mike as a collector that I would think of him as beyond amateur. I don't think it drives your everyday though.
Michael: I wish it did. I wish I had the time, but because I buy what I like we are running out of space, putting stuff against the heating vents is never what I had in mind. We have a cabin now, so great, more walls! I would hate to be in a space where I would have to put stuff in storage.
John: You are on your way there buddy.
Rosalux: How do you see yourselves in the ecosystem of the art world? What do you think the role of a collector plays in relationship to that of the artist?
Michael: I love the idea of being supportive in the community. Especially with having been on the board of SOOVAC and currently serving on the board of the MMAA, the idea that these facilities can create relationships with artists and bring them to the attention of their audiences. It isn’t just having the object on the wall. We support the local. Anytime we see an artist that we have collected receive recognition for their work, knowing that we have been a supportive part of that experience is really gratifying.
Rosalux: So what do you enjoy most, the gratification you feel from owning work or the hunt to find something new?
Michael: I think If I hunted more I think I would like it more. I hope to walk into Rosalux every time and to walk out having bought something.
Rosalux: We hope that too!
Michael: If I went out more frequently, I think I am a good hunter generally, but I just don’t think I do it enough to say hunting, so owning it, absolutely. It just goes toward my own philosophy of why I collect.
Rosalux: what is the best advice in terms of art collecting that you have ever given or been given?
Michael: It is so cliche to say because it has be said again and again but is to buy what you like. If I am trying to think of something that is more unique to me, which is attributable to Suzy Greenberg too, is to not be afraid and don’t overthink it.
Rosalux: in the interest of self promotion, what have been your favorite shows or experiences at Rosalux over the years?
Michael: The show where I bought the knots piece from Terrence Payne, and the last one with Areca Roe that we bought a photo from, that show was amazing. I also remember the art-a-whirl where you were showing the dirty movies, that was cool. And of course the shows where I walk out with something.
Rosalux: Anytime you walk out with something it is a memorable show for us! Is there an artist you have your eye on right now?
Michael: Someone we currently don’t have is Aaron Dysart, he definitely has that environmental slant to his work that we like. A lot of what we have seen is his installation based work and I would love to go with something three dimensional, we could make some room for that. I am always interested in what Aaron is doing.