dimensional pieces. There are paintings by Richard Carlyon and Gene Davis and heavy metal chairs (literally and figuratively) by Robert Cleveland, who studied at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Waynesboro designer Fred Crist.
“I used to be a normal person,” says Blanton with a smile, “But then I started getting a few things.”
Blanton’s still evolving contemporary collection — 30 years in the making — is characterized by the dynamic pieces of prominent regional artists, from Maurice Beane-designed furniture to Rubin Peacock sculpture to Nell Blaine, Harriet Fitzgerald, Andy Bality and Nancy Camden Witt canvases. This makes moving through the home an exhilarating experience.
Miraculously however, the place isn’t chockablock. This wouldn’t surprise those who know Blanton. The recently retired vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond is famous for being fastidious in everything he tackles. Characteristically, he has taken as much care in placing and illuminating his artworks as he did in assembling them. And since the collection includes works by many members of Richmond’s tight-knit artistic community, the way Blanton has placed the objects makes it seem as if the works are carrying on a conversation.
In the library, the carpet was inspired by the image on a printed folding screen by Richmond-born New York artist Jack Beal. A Milo Russell painting hangs close to a canvas by a fellow VCU painting professor James Bumgardner.
“Both works deal with rooms, both have people. And both have fenestration that opens things up to the outside,” says Blanton, revealing some insight into how he has placed things, “Also, both have picture planes that are tilted toward you to pull you in.”
But lest things get too cozy, Blanton has mixed things up a bit. Separating the two canvases is an abstract, striped drawing by the late Gene Davis, a Washington painter. “It’s like a sorbet between two courses of a meal,” he says.
In the living room, an angular, polished stainless steel sculpture by Beverly Pepper sits below and complements a Peggy Anderson painting of a rugged landscape.
Over time Blanton has evolved a highly personal method of placing and hanging his eclectic selection of artworks. “I believe in having every object lighted. I don’t believe in having anything in front of anything else,” he says, “Some things you want close and other things you want to give more space.”
“I like it when the pieces echo, or become part of the architecture,” he says gesturing to a pair of matching mirrors by Ronald Puckett that hang in the living room directly across from two windows on the facing wall.
“And I like to both create axes and then contradict the axis.” says Blanton as if reciting an aesthetic creed. Standing in the living room, he illustrates by gesturing to an inviting, upholstered Chippendale sofa, the Maurice Beane, egg-shell-topped table with polished metal base immediately behind it and a painting of yellow pencils by Shelley Riezenstein, a Maryland artist who studied at VCU.
And then Blanton gestures to the walls, “A shade of yellow is hard to choose. You think it’ll be okay and then it looks like French’s Mustard when you put it on the walls. You always need a paler yellow than you think.”
“I like Adam colors — yellow and blue,” he adds, referring to the 18th century English architects and design arbiters. “I think that came from when Paul Perrot [a former director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts] engaged Hugh Jacobson [a Washington architect] to come up with a color scheme for the stair hall that leads to the museum’s galleries.”
Blanton pauses for a minute and continues, “I don’t like things lined up, one next to another.”
“Did you ever go to Graceland?” he asks wincing, “There’s that sofa that goes down the wall. When people were entertained there they must have sat as if lined up on church pews. It’s the weirdest feeling.”
Unique and as sculptural as some of his chairs are, Blanton has made a special effort to place conversation areas throughout the house. He gives careful thought to vistas created by doors from one room to another. “You’ve got to take advantage of sight lines,” he says. Standing in almost any spot in the house, one can look through open door and have one’s eye fall on a strategically placed object. From the light-filled breakfast room, if one looks down the passage toward the master suite, the eye falls on a print of brilliantly colored apples and oranges by Donald Sulton. The rich tones are luring, the subject matter is appropriate to a dining space.
Blanton bought his first piece of art on a business trip to Nashville, Tenn., where he found a battered old painting. He thought he’d use the frame for a mirror. But to his amazement the surface cleaned up nicely to reveal an Appalachian mountain scene. One of his first conscious purchases was a painting by Carlton Abbott, a Williamsburg artist, that Blanton acquired from the Eric Schindler Gallery here. In the 1970s, Blanton became more involved through activities of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ former Institute of Contemporary Art. He struck up a friendship with then-director Paul Perrot and his wife Joanne. “Paul brought contemporary art out of the basement,” Blanton says approvingly, “He eventually closed the ICA as a basement activity and bought it upstairs.”
Blanton purchased what he calls his Ozzie-and-Harriet house in 1976 and moved from a modest-sized apartment in the lower Fan. Within a few years the comfortable, brick house was quickly filled with objects. “I didn’t buy this house for art, I bought it for the neighborhood and for privacy,” he says.
“Then, when I filled up one house I built another one,” he says. Blanton didn’t actually move to a new house. In 1993, he doubled the size of the house by designing and adding a wing on the rear in an architectural style that contrasts dramatically with the traditional lines of the original house. “It now has a Bauhaus back,” he says, referring to the precedent-setting, modernist school of design that operated in Germany during the 1920s and ’30s.
Has Blanton ever purchased a piece because it would fit into a particular spot? He flinches disapprovingly at the suggestion. “Oh no, I purchase something because it strikes a chord with me. Because it speaks to me.”
Chances are, frequent visitors to Blanton’s home will find new objects each time they come. And more than a few things will be moved around as Blanton discovers new ways of looking at his pieces and explores new ways of grouping them. But rest assured, one thing will be constant, each piece will be individually and carefully lighted. This home, like its occupant, is wired for art.HS