On Collecting  With Nancy Edelstein

In continuation with our On Collecting series, Lisa Ahlberg, PCNW alumni and Benefit Committee member spoke with collector and PCNW community member Nancy Edelstein.  

Nancy Edelstein was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and has lived in Seattle for more than 40 years. She received her BFA from the University of Michigan, and enjoyed a career in marketing and design for the fashion industry. Later, she became known for her one of a kind custom books, honoring the lives and accomplishments of others. Recently, Nancy completed a four year MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Studio Practice. She went on to receive a month long artist residency at MASS MoCA last fall, and was invited to return this October to continue her interests there.

Nancy has been connected to the Photographic Center Northwest (PCNW) for several decades, first as a student, taking classes in studio lighting with Claire Garoutte, color printing with Seth Thompson, personal projects seminars with Nancy Levine, and many more. She was a PCNW board member from 2005-2009, and with others, created the first PCNW Auction, which has become an annual event to support the many amazing opportunities it offers. Nancy appreciates the rare gift that the Photocenter is to our community, and supports its continued contribution to our city and beyond.

Nancy’s current installation work can be viewed at: nancyedelstein.com

Lisa: What were the early influences that led you to become a collector?

Nancy: Both of my parents had a passion for style and taste, which fit right in with the minimal modernism of the 60’s. My father’s office was very cool-decorated in Knoll furniture and photorealism imagery. Eventually, this chrome and glass style infiltrated our home, which slowly became filled with contemporary art.

Lisa: What was the experience of your first purchase? 

Nancy: My own first art purchase was in the 80’s- predicated on a wish and a dare. I was trained as a photographer and followed the work of the dynamic photographers of the time. Silver Image Gallery was the only photography gallery in Seattle then, and it was there that I fell in love with a Richard Misrach split tone silver print from his Desert Cantos series- images of cactus at night in the desert. While I never dreamed of owning one, and couldn’t afford it, especially at that time when I was just starting a design and marketing firm, I was so smitten I just decided to ‘go for it’ as an outrageous declaration of my commitment to quality and the success of my business. It took months of payments, but eventually my first treasure came home.

Richard Misrach, Yucca #1, Baja, California, 1976

Lisa: How did your collection develop?

Nancy: My passion for photography fueled the core of my slowly expanding collection. As my business grew, I traveled to New York frequently and became familiar with the photographic work in the museums. The Whitney Biennial was where I was first exposed to work by the Starn Twins, and will never forget their installation of a beautifully distressed, torn and fragmented photographic collage of Jesus, laying full scale, full body, face up flat in a clear plexiglass box. A similarly distressed piece of their work now hangs in my dining room.

Starn Twins, Plant Details #3, 1988

Lisa: Do you believe photography is a good investment?

Nancy: Yes I do, but I have never been motivated to purchase photographs for that reason. I buy something only out of a strong connection to the work itself. While I don’t have much empty wall space any more to add to my collection, I am still moved to acquire that ‘special’ piece when it comes along. At one of the last Photo Center’s annual auctions, I deliberated bidding on a Paul Berger photographic silver print from his earlier series that I had seen and loved for a long time. As an influential teacher at the University of Washington for 35 years, expanding the direction of the medium of photography with his own work, I knew I would like to own one of his smart and beautifully executed images before they were no longer available. Unfortunately, I vacillated at the auction for a minute too long, and it was gone! Luckily, there was a retrospective at G. Gibson Gallery of his work in conjunction with the launching of his Minor Matters Press monograph, and I found something there that I equally loved, and this time didn’t hesitate for a second.

Paul Berger, Mathematics #61, 1976-77  

Lisa: What is your experience of living with art?

Nancy: A calm personal space is important to me, and in my home I resonate with a variety of photographic works that collectively create this mood which always enfolds me. Living with art that I love, whatever it is, is a fantastic gift to myself that I never tire of. My Misrach is still as full of wonder to me now as it was at first sight. 

Lisa: Any advice or favorite practice as a collector you would suggest to others?

Nancy: A habit I developed from the start that has been very useful has been to keep a section on my bookshelf designated specifically for manuals or books related to the pieces or artists hanging on my walls. Often when guests want to know more, these come in handy to give a broader sense of the artist and the work, and to help me remember some of the details myself.

Lisa: What is your vision for your collection in the future?

Nancy:  I am aware of the responsibility of legacy that is inherent in creating any collection. Recently, I inherited some of my parents artwork, which offered the challenge and opportunity of incorporating their non-photographic artwork into my space. While I had collected only photography over the years, integrating some new forms of art has made the visual experience even richer. I now have a full-size cement and bronze sheep named Claude in my entry! All I can say is, if you’re an art lover, don’t hesitate, find a way to bring art that you love into your home and share it with others. 

Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne, Belier (Ram)

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