Houseguest

Dick Belger and Evelyn Craft Belger live with art — everywhere

Updated: 2013-07-01T01:37:34Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

Since they married in 2009, Evelyn Craft Belger and Dick Belger have continued to do together what each loved to do before: buying, exhibiting and living with art.

Craft Belger has joined her energies to Belger’s in running the Belger Arts Center at 2100 Walnut St. She also organizes exhibits and programs for Red Star Studios at the Belger Craneyard complex at 2011 Tracy Ave.

The couple’s 6,000-square-foot loft space in one of the Craneyard’s four buildings is a showcase for their extensive collection of furniture, fine crafts and contemporary painting, arranged in eye-catching groups by Craft Belger. It’s a never-ending job, as works are constantly going out to museums for shows.

Although it looks like a gallery, the loft is their living and working space. The setup includes desks and copiers and a treadmill tucked in a corner. Nearby, a lifelike John DeAndrea sculpture of a nude female lounges in a chair.

How long has this collection been in progress?

Forty years. Dick and his father began collecting Tiffany lamps and glass objects in the early 1970s. In the 1960s, they bought French cameo art glass (made by etching and carving into fused layers of colored glass). And Dick and I bought a lot together over the past eight years, including the midcentury modern furniture, contemporary ceramics, contemporary glass and a number of contemporary paintings and prints.

Is there a philosophy that drives what you buy?

Dick collects in a series. What we share is an interest in process. Whether it’s guns, Tiffany, cameo glass or contemporary art, he likes to see how ideas move through time. He thinks you learn as much from things that don’t work as things that do. That dovetails with my belief: If you’re doing contemporary art or craft exhibitions or if you’re creating work, the only way you move forward is by taking risks.

What’s it like to live surrounded by art?

It’s enlivening, stimulating. You learn something new every day. William Christenberry did this large painting, “Beale Street,” when he was teaching in Memphis, which is where I’m from. It has three white figures, and I made an assumption that they refer to the Ku Klux Klan, because so many of his works do. But then I thought, why does that one figure appear to have an Afro? I asked Christenberry, and he told me the figures represent a krewe, wearing prankster outfits, from the famous Memphis Cotton Carnival.

You have a real eye for putting things together.

My mother is an interior designer. I grew up moving furniture around.

I like the way our Wendell Castle rocker, which we bought out of his 2011 show at Belger Arts Center, frames the William Wiley painting “O.T.P.A.G.” The letters stand for “On the Palette Anything Goes” and refer to the license to express whatever you feel like expressing. I’ve paired it with two Japanese saki urns. Dick bought them from an antique dealer who was his college roommate in Hawaii.

The French cameo glass is dazzling.

The slender blue vase with the birds and the white trees is by Daum Nancy, and the piece with the grapes is by the famous art nouveau artist Emile Galle. We’ve also collected a lot of Newcombe American arts and crafts pottery and Quezal vases, made by the Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Co. in the early 20th century.

Tell me about some of this furniture.

The light blond dining set is Heywood-Wakefield, a line American designer Russel Wright started in the 1940s. It came right out of the Bauhaus. We bought it from a dealer in Florida and had the chairs upholstered in a fabric being produced today that is based on designs from the ’40s and ’50s.

We have documentation that shows that the Tiffany wisteria lamp on top of it was once a gift from Marcello Mastroianni to Catherine Deneuve, his longtime lover.

I’ve grouped our Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs with a bird chair by Harry Bertoia and a Noguchi table. The ceramic piece on the table is by Rain Harris, one of our Red Star Studios artists, from her “Artificial Phylum” series.

You have many works by artists affiliated with Red Star.

The “Dalmation Cups” with the dogs’ heads are by Latvian-born Ilona Romule, who was a Red Star artist in residence. I’ve displayed it with vases by Paul Donnelly and Bowie Croisant in this Mission-style cabinet with a glass front. There’s a tray by Marc Digeros on the lower shelf. He now works in L.A. and is Frank Gehry’s model shop manager. We have several pieces by Jose Sierra, who takes inspiration from modernism and pre-Columbian art. The Nerman Museum shop is carrying his work now.

You support emerging artists …

What we think is really important is what we call an “encouragement collection.” We buy work from emerging artists and students — some move forward and some stop. We will show their work in the same exhibitions as more-established artists. For instance, the “Adornment” exhibition at the Belger Arts Center (through Sept. 7) has a piece by Shae Bishop, which he made when he was a student in the ceramics department at Kansas City Art Institute.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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