My neighborhood is a diverse one. I have neighbors that were the first to move in when our sweet townhomes were built, who are now well into their 80’s, with a wealth of knowledge about the community. I have a young pediatrician, fresh out of his residency who’s presumed quiet and shy nature flew out the window one night at a cocktail-fueled dinner party. There are retired arborists from Eastern Kentucky, active local business owners, snowbirds who disappear to Florida for months on end…. I’m almost positive that each of my 50-some neighboring homes have residents with a story, with a background. None of them, however, have a home with as well-curated of an art collection as this one:
Just inside the front door there’s a piece done in bright, saturated colors, a woman, naked in the night, faceless. It’s striking and bold, fun, and not at all what I would have expected to greet me as I walked in.
Anne Howell grew up in Virginia, completing her undergrad at Wellesley before moving on to earn her Master’s and PhD in English Literature at Columbia. That move to New York, and her early career there introduced her to New York’s starving artists. “These people were literally starving! Living in Central Park, or under bridges.”
What I love about Anne’s home is that once you enter, things feel collected, like they have a purpose. Her walls- which, when she moved in 16 years ago, were covered in layers of wallpaper, glued against royal-blue painted trim (“It was awful!”)- are painted in a gorgeous olive green French strie’, and the trim a bright white. Crystal light fixtures bounce light around the rooms, while her living area stays soft and cozy- lit by lamps alone.
The first time I walked in, I was immediately taken with a large oil painting of Anne that she sat for before she started grad school. “I wanted to be in a red silk dress so that my grandchildren could see that I was…. You know…”. She laughs.
Bookcases on either side of the doors leading to her patio are stuffed full of literature, yes, but tucked in between are tiny pieces from family photos to neon nudes. Her dining room holds her most prized piece- a Besler botanical, done in eglomise and French matting, dates to the 17th century.
Also from that time, hung between two other pieces in her living room, is a scrap of French Aubusson. Her friend Fran, who owns an oriental rug salon in town, gifted the piece to Anne. “She knew I loved the colors.” She had it matted in silk and framed.
My favorite piece in her home is a dark, minimalist painting of three faces. “From The Three Faces of Eve,” she tells me. “Done by a man living in Central Park.” It hangs, simply framed, above her silver tea service in the dining room. The juxtaposition is incredible, and a little surprising. “No one expects to see this in my house!”
We walk into the kitchen, where a mural done by local artist Sandy Kimora encompasses the room. “It took her three weeks to complete. It’s based on a French mural I had seen many, many years ago outside Paris. In these murals, there’s always an ugly bird. It always has to be pink. I have so enjoyed this- when I look at it, I see things I’d forgotten. Hummingbirds, the fronds… In any mural, detail work is your secret. If there’s no detail work, to me, there is no mural.”
On the counter in here, we find two faces- a man and a woman- framed, propped up on her calacatta gold marble counters. “I love the faces. I don’t know a thing about them other than that a friend of mine had them, and they’re fabulous. They’re done on paper bags. It makes them interesting.”
From flea markets in Madrid to tiny shops in Japan, her pieces have been collected throughout the world. A small Japanese drawing hangs near a caricature of Greta Garbo in her den. “My son was in Japan, in Kyoto, and this little old man had a shop that was going out of business. My son told him that he wanted to buy a piece, but that it had to be old because it was for his mother.” She laughs. “I’m not sure how I feel about that!”
From century-old family portraits in her hall, hung alongside a piece of headboard from the now-gone Milner Hotel in downtown Louisville, there are pieces everywhere. Even in her guest bath, we find a small collection. An on-glass painting of Adam and Eve from Warsaw, Poland hangs near a study in the calling to Heaven. “What makes this piece so interesting- I think- is the detail work on the dead body.”
“No one would look at these things other than me. I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder. I wish I had started (collecting) when I was your age, but we were busy! Paying tuitions, living in New York…. It was very expensive.” That’s one reason she supported the starving artists in New York. She continues, “I’d rather have the old masters, but I go into old homes sometimes, and you just see the same things over and over. It’s like these people haven’t smiled in 40 years, and I don’t like that! I’d rather support someone who’s unknown, with something I haven’t seen before.”
As for the bright, a-little-bit-funky piece inside her front door? “Every house should have something funny, wistful. That’s why I have this piece when you first come in. Everybody loves it! I assure you I paid more for the frame than the art, but every one loves it!” And it makes her happy when she walks in? “Exactly.”
The only print in Anne’s home- not pictured- is a Picasso. Corps Perdu, “which means the entire body,” she tells me. All-encompassing, whole. It’s as a home should be, and- without doubt- as this one is.
** photos by Kyle Lueken **