Kessler’s collection covers high & low
This is the latest in an ongoing series about Southeast Texas art collectors.
Some people focus on collecting high-brow contemporary art works, while others collect banal items such as baseball cards and Coca-Cola products.
Jamie Paul Kessler, however, accumulates it all. He is a collector of collections.
“I’m not a snob, I collect all sorts of things,” he says. “I don’t mind spending a quarter at Goodwill for something if it’s something I like, and I will tell people I got it for a quarter. If I’m at Neiman’s and I see something I like, I don’t mind telling people I went there either. I’m on both sides of the fence— nothing has capsulized in me. I don’t buy things for status in my collection, I buy it because I love it. I’m a connoisseur of beautiful things and that is just my vision of beauty.”
Tucked away in his West End home are drawers and cabinets filled with treasures and trinkets he has assembled over the course of his life.
“My first collection started when I was eight or nine years old, and I started collecting matchbox cars,” Kessler says. “I used to go to the dime store and other places in Houston when I would visit relatives and would find old matchbox cars. I still have my collection, and my great nieces play with them when they come over.”
Wherever one turns in Kessler’s home, one encounters a different collection — one shelf displays pins from Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, and another is filled with multiple little picture frames and old-fashioned tin toys.
Kessler is particularly drawn to containers.
“I like bowls and vases because they hold things,” he says. “I like things that hold other things, like fruit as well as rocks— I have a collection of rocks. I like bountiful things. All of these are containers that can hold a bounty.”
Kessler’s kitchen has a cabinet with American-made ceramic kitchenware from the 1940s and ’50s, a teapot collection, and various brand memorabilia like a miniature standing Jolly Green Giant. Also, inconspicuously arranged in rows behind a cabinet door, are more than 600 Limoges boxes. The French-made boxes are all sorts of shapes and themes including fruit, vegetables, animals, insects, transportation, space, and even a Venus de Milo with a box base.
“I went on a kick for about five years with the Limoges boxes,” he says. “I’m a foodie — I love organic food and natural food. I don’t really eat sugar that much, but I couldn’t resist all of these pastry-inspired boxes with their fine attention to detail. They started off as snuff boxes — the ladies who dipped snuff would put in these boxes to make it a more delicate habit.”
Three lemon Limoges boxes rest on the kitchen counter, mirroring the trees budding lemons in Kessler’s garden. An avid gardener and handy around tools, he has beautifully landscaped a backyard with herbs and vegetables, an outdoor deck and bathhouse, and a shady corner tree with a hammock. His collection even extends to his teeming gardens; sea glass and oval rocks provide a contrast to the pile of compost that fertilizes his crops.
In the living room, illuminated by the natural light, Czechoslovakian and German glassware glow in warm ambers and lush greens across from another display case of porcelain vessels. However, these autumn colors will soon be changed to pastel hues for spring.
“I like to rotate things out during the year to reflect the seasons,” Kessler says. “I get bored with things and I like changing the colors.”
Kessler has several storage closets filled with seasonal duvet covers, textured shirts in autumn and winter hues, and colorful, cotton shirts for the warmer seasons. He likes buying multiples so he has a broad array of colors and patterns from which to choose.
“I can’t just have one of something, I want to have 12 or more,” he says.
Kessler also has his share of local artists’ works on his walls, including Keith Carter, Maudee Carron and Julie Lee. The former BISD and Lamar art teacher has his own artwork displayed as well. His compositions play with order and color, renderings its subjects floating in dreamlike scapes.
The objects on display in his residence are only a fraction of the collection, that which is not hidden in furniture is stored in the attic — an assemblage that looks similar to what would be found in a museum’s holdings. Some of his oldest collections are stored there and from time to time are displayed.
“During the centennial when they renovated the Statue of Liberty, my friend gave me a souvenir building of both the Statue and the Empire State Building, so I started collecting those little souvenir buildings and I amassed about 900 of them,” he says. “Sometimes, I will take them out of the attic and put them on the coffee table and it will look like a cityscape made up from all types of buildings and towers from different countries.”
Despite the obvious attachment he feels for objects that were collected throughout his lifetime, Kessler knows that his collections are just souvenirs of his experiences — he says he cares far more about his family and friends — and his four bouncing miniature Belgian sheepdogs called Skipperkes.
“I also have my priorities straight,” he said. “If this house burned down, as long as the living things are OK, I’m not concerned with the lost objects. If someone comes over and breaks something, I’m more concerned about their feelings than the object. They didn’t break it on purpose — I don’t want them to feel bad.”
Just like his own artwork, Kessler artfully arranges his home with objects from his collection to create a fantastical visage of colors and patterns, with a little air of mystery — one never knows what is hidden behind the next door.
Caitlin Duerler, ISSUE staff writer