Our Collective Obsessions

by Stephen CraftiThis is an extract from Eclectic Collections.

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN collecting things for centuries.

Whether it’s something precious, or simply things that recall childhood memories, collecting can turn a simple hobby into a lifelong mission. What starts as a mild interest can, if left unchecked, turn into an obsession – always collecting the next piece of a much larger puzzle.

The collectors featured in this book didn’t start out with the collections they have now. It could have started with a wrong turn that led them to an antique market or secondhand store. In the case of Sarah Guest, who collects Australian timber boxes, she was initially looking for a chest of drawers for her daughter and spied a fairly rudimentary box made by an apprentice in the 1960s. One box led to the next, with her collection now comprising over 200 boxes.

Likewise, architect Phyllis Murphy’s collection changed direction in the 1980s. With architect husband John Murphy, the couple decided to move to the country. The discovery of an old painter-decorator’s shed, filled with hundreds of rolls of wallpaper dating as far back as the early 19th century, spurred her interest in wallpapers from the past. Thirty years later, Murphy has one of, if not the largest, collections of period wallpapers known. Each paper is carefully labelled and catalogued. While Murphy continues to look out for wallpapers, many people contact her directly who may have a paper of interest.

Other collectors, such as interior designer Sandy Geyer, have a large collection of contemporary jewellery. Her jewellery boxes are full of interesting pieces. Some, like the jewellery of the late Japanese-Australian artist Mari Funaki, are beautifully presented in Perspex cases in Geyer’s living room. Geyer regularly removes the lids of her cases to choose a brooch (some part sculpture, some part jewellery). Like many of the collectors featured in this book, Geyer was collecting contemporary jewellery in the late 1960s, when many people were still wearing pearls and twinsets.

Art collectors Harry and Susan Curtis also started looking at contemporary art in the 1960s, while many of the artists now in their collection were, then, unheard of. Rather than making a conscious decision to start an art collection, they came across a particular etching. The young married couple preferred to defer stocking their new home with household essentials, such as a mop or broom, as they took greater pleasure from the etching on their wall. Not surprising, this one etching led them in search of some of the other great contemporary artists of that time. What did they see that others failed to notice? Beata and Vann Fisher also saw the importance of collecting contemporary art. They now have an extraordinary collection of paintings, sculpture and objets d’art that has been beautifully incorporated into their home. Sliding walls and doors allow art to be rehung, creating a dynamic and ever-changing collection to show. Another collector, Corbett Lyon, has turned his home into a house museum in order to share his contemporary Australian art collection with the public. Michael Buxton’s art collection has also grown over the years, now representing one of the country’s largest and most significant collections of contemporary art.

Janni Lawford Soltys’ collection has taken a different direction. As a fashion model in the 1960s and 70s, Soltys was attracted to London’s flea markets and secondhand vintage clothing stores. Decades later, she has wardrobes and boxes brimming with designer fashion from the early 20th century to more recent times. It wasn’t until Japanese fashion designers made their mark in the early 1980s that Soltys realised the true value of these designs.

Rare shells, books, and paintings are featured in this book. However, there are also collections that are difficult to value. Suzie Stanford’s cake topper collection started with her parent’s wedding cake. Soon Stanford was on the hunt for another, and yet another.

This book not only captures a number of fine and precious collections, but collections that tell rich and fascinating stories. This book also observes the lengths people will go to in finding their next collector ‘fix’. One collector, who focuses on a single furniture designer from the mid-20th century, is not about to stop collecting. Every room in their house is brimming with furniture and what can’t be accommodated at home is stored in a warehouse. Nothing gives this collector more pleasure than a phone call from someone who has a piece of furniture by the same designer to sell. When asked why it’s so important to have another piece of furniture, there’s trepidation, something unexplainable.

Collecting is addictive – obsessive you could say – and can rarely be fully explained. And by the time it is explained it’s too late – one’s abode is filled with a collection that’s truly remarkable.

Eclectic Collections

People have been collecting things for centuries. Whether it’s something precious, or simply things that recall childhood memories, collections can turn a hobby into a lifetime obsession.

This latest book by Stephen Crafti, Eclectic Collections, looks at a number of great collections: contemporary art, vintage fashion, wallpapers, ceramics, contemporary jewellery, and even rare and fine books. Some collectors have customised their spaces at home to accommodate their collections, while others have transformed their abodes into warehouses, desperately trying to find room for their next acquisition.

A collector of designer hats even resorted to the bathtub to accommodate her collection. This book not only showcases great collections but draws out the collector's personality and their ‘hunt’ for the next piece in their extraordinary ‘puzzles’, each acquisition shedding new light on these impressive collections.


Scott Mullins
Scott Mullins