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Collectors come from all walks of life and have backgrounds as diverse as their individual collections. Yet most collectors share a few common traits: they relish the thrill of acquiring the objects of their desire and enjoy living with and learning about them. Over the years, both Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Museum of Natural History have relied heavily on the generosity of private collectors to help build their world-class collections.












“For me, collecting means being able to enjoy the beauty of your collection as often as you want to…not having to go somewhere else to see it.” - Bob Kerr










































“Collecting has become a lifestyle and an intellectual pursuit,” says Herbert Diamond. “We spend just as much time studying what we own as we do collecting,” adds his wife Carol.





Acquired Taste: The Art of Collecting

Do human beings have an instinctual need to accumulate things? Ask an avid collector, someone with an almost primal urge to seek out particular objects of desire and possess them, and the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Pittsburgh’s famous son Andy Warhol was known to be a packrat who couldn’t part with anything he found interesting. Whether Warhol collected almost everything he touched because he thought that someday it might tell the world something significant about the past, or just because he grew up poor and was saving it for later use, we may never know for sure. But Jessica Gogan, curator of education at The Andy Warhol Museum, believes that “whether we know it or not, we all collect something.”

Compelled To Collect
For Bob Kerr, a retired engineer and collector of rare minerals who volunteers his time periodically to catalogue specimens for the Section of Minerals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, “collecting certainly feels like an instinct.”

Kerr got his start as a collector in the ’80s when he moved to Arizona for a job and wondered what he could do during his time off to combat the intense heat. He decided to go underground.
“ The natural beauty underground was incredible,” he says. “There was such a contrast between the desert, with its cactus and mesquite, and the world below, with all those lustrous, crystalline forms. It’s amazing what Mother Nature can produce. I got hooked.”

It’s not easy to go digging for specimens. It can be dangerous and requires expensive equipment. Most collectors find it easier to go to mineral shows and barter for their next prize. In fact, Kerr builds his collection mostly by buying, trading, and reselling. He specializes in lead-based minerals; a subcategory known for its rich color and luster, like gems.

“ I go to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society Show every year,” says Kerr. “It’s a huge show, filled with hundreds of dealers. Most of the new minerals come in from China, Russia, Morocco, and South Africa. It’s fun to wheel and deal. I haven’t paid a dime for most of my specimens. Frequently, I’ll buy a box lot with several pieces, then I’ll keep the piece I want and sell the rest—hopefully for what I paid for the whole lot.”

What Kerr loves most about his collection is the incredible variety of color that is inherent to lead-based crystals. He’s fascinated by the fiery personalities of reds, oranges, and yellows that are showcased in his home from several wall-mounted glass cabinets. One of his signature pieces is a
cerrusite v-twin from Morocco that is one of the largest single cerrusite crystals ever harvested. Another is a rare wulfenite plate, generally considered to be among the best of its species, which came from the Red Cloud Mine in Arizona.

“ For me, collecting means being able to enjoy the beauty of your collection as often as you want to…not having to go somewhere else to see it. My collection is on display for my own viewing. I don’t consider myself an elite-level collector,
but I do plan to donate my top pieces to the Museum of Natural History. Private collections are essential to museums. Without private donors, they wouldn’t have much,” he says.

Top RIght: Among Kerr’s favorite pieces is a wulfenite plate, among the best of its species, harvested from the Red Cloud Mine in Arizona.
BottomRight: Kerr and a friend, John Callahan, who owns the 79 Mine in which the two were working, as they handle a large aurichcalcite specimen that they unearthed.
PHOTOS: Tom Altany

Private Collections, Public Exhibits
Marc Wilson couldn’t agree more. As collections manager and head of the Section of Minerals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Wilson is keenly aware of the importance of individual donors to museum acquisitions.

“ Throughout history, museums would not exist if not for private collectors,” says Wilson. “During the 1800s and early 1900s, private collectors actually started museums by donating their collections. In 1904, Andrew Carnegie purchased the mineral collection of W. W. Jefferis, which provided the core mineral collection of the Museum of Natural History.” (See also Romancing the Stones)

Not all donations are exhibit-quality, but many are appropriate for the reference and research collections of the museum.

“ Exhibit pieces are exquisite, natural works of art,” says Wilson. “We’re seeking beauty, perfection of crystal form, freedom from damage, and rarity. An exhibit piece has a unique brilliance that can’t be duplicated. Ore deposits around the world are like threatened environments; after a mine closes, you never see it again. Our job is to salvage specimens while we can.

“ A collection is like a time capsule—it shows the personal taste of the collector and what was available at the time,” Wilson notes. “It builds a picture of our mineralogical heritage and recognizes the collector as well as the specimen. We have a pedigree of collections here.”

Two of the most renowned collectors in the mineralogical world, Bryan Lees and Bryon Brookmyer, have each made significant contributions to Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Recently, Bruce and David Oreck donated $2 million in cash and specimens to the museum, including a pair of the world’s finest specimens of watermelon tourmaline from Bruce’s personal collection, one of which is known as “City in the Clouds.” “These specimens put us on par with the best museums in the world,” says Wilson. “A signature piece immediately identifies your museum.

“ Museums owe much to their relationships with private collectors. We have a network of relationships that covers the globe. People give to people. That’s why relationships are so important.”

Richard Armstrong, The Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art, says that the same can be said for the world of art. “We like to have a city of collectors all interested in the museum. Private collections are an index of how successful art museums are in their communities.

“ Easily half of the pieces we have on display are gifts from private donors. There are always wealthy and generous people who have long-standing relationships with museums. For example, G. David Thompson gave us the DeKooning painting, Woman VI, which is one of only six in the world.”

Many collectors identify themselves by visiting the museum and asking questions about a particular genre or exhibition. If they are able to establish a relationship with a museum professional, it can pave the way for a possible donation in the future.

“ Occasionally, we know beforehand if someone is planning to donate art,” says Armstrong. “Sometimes it’s a very pleasant surprise, like the table by Japanese artist George Nakashima. It was a fractional gift —the museum only had inches—and now we have the entire 12 feet.”

All donations are significant, even ones the museum might not keep. Sometimes a piece will be accepted under the category of property, and then sold to raise cash for an endowment fund.

Collecting: A Lifestyle
Herbert and Carol Diamond hadn’t given much thought to whether or not the art they had purchased might be museum-quality. That is until their collection of French 19th-century drawings and bronzes was presented as the exhibition Visions, Fragments, and Impressions at Carnegie Museum of Art in the fall of 2000.

“ Each piece in our collection is a little jewel,” Carol Diamond says. Her husband adds, “We buy something because it appeals to us, and we plan to live with it.”

The Diamonds started collecting art in 1964, when they purchased a pair of watercolors by Keiko Minami at an auction in Brooklyn.“We didn’t really think of it as collecting, we just enjoyed it,” says Carol Diamond. “At the time, we were newly married and didn’t have much discretionary income. So we decided that rather than buying each other birthday or anniversary gifts, we’d buy art instead.”

After celebrating more than 40 anniversaries, the Diamonds have amassed a celebrated collection of works on paper, which includes 19th-century French pieces as well as an American collection that combines realist, modernist, and early abstract art.

“ Collecting has become a lifestyle,” says Herbert Diamond, “and an intellectual pursuit. When we travel, we go to art museums to see what’s there and to learn about art. And, of course, we meet such fascinating people…curators, dealers, other collectors…and they all share our interest.”

Top Right: One of Herbert Diamond’s favorite pieces; Man in the City’s Outskirts, by Jean François Raffaëlli.
Bottom Right: A Pittsburgh scene done by Ernest Fiene, which served as a study for an oil painting that the artist created for the 1935 Carnegie International. PHOT OS: Tom Altany

Collections that Teach
The Diamonds prefer works on paper because they’re more immediate and
represent what the artist was thinking at the time. “A work on paper was often done as a study for a final work done in oil,” explains Herbert Diamond. “You can see the artist working through problems. We have a small pencil sketch of the Study for the Battle of Poitiers by Eugéne Delacroix, and you can see that the drawing is not about structure, but about movement. That was the hallmark of his work—movement in a static image.”

Most of the Diamonds’ favorite pieces are examples of social realism that depict “the way life was.” Carol Diamond loves the expressive flow of The Seamstresses by Pierre-Charles Angrand, and her husband appreciates the simple countenance of Jean François Raffaëlli’s Man in the City’s Outskirts.

Herbert Diamond’s preference for realism makes reference to his background in medicine. As chairman of medicine at Western Pennsylvania Hospital and a practicing rheumatologist, he often gives talks about art and medicine.

“ One of my mentors in medical school told me that the heart of medicine is to see things,” he says. “I showed some of my residents the Portrait of Mademoiselle Goton by Octave Tassaert. She’s a middle-aged peasant woman—certainly not the model of beauty for the human form—and the sketch reveals her arthritic feet. So I asked them, ‘What kind of arthritis does she have?’ Nobody had an answer!”

At times a piece in the Diamonds’ collection will produce an answer that no one was seeking, purely by chance.

“ Some years ago, I was looking through a journal of clinical science that’s published by the New York Academy of Medicine,” says Herbert Diamond. “It’s illustrated with paintings, and I came upon a Pittsburgh scene that was done by Ernest Fiene for the 1935 Carnegie International. I recognized it immediately, because we have the original study. I inquired about it, and discovered that the painting had been owned originally by the Kaufmann family.”

“ That’s when we say, ‘Wow, we always liked it, now we’re really impressed!’” adds Carol Diamond.

No matter how much time they spend collecting or how diverse their range of collectibles, most serious collectors have one simple characteristic in common—a passion for collecting. Most buy only what they like and often don’t consider an object’s investment value.

“ We’ve never sold a piece of art,” says Herbert Diamond. “But we do seek quality pieces for donation purposes. We’ve already donated some pieces to Carnegie Museum of Art, and we anticipate that they’ll end up with a few more.”

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