living with vintage art: tips from jenny hart

by Grace Bonney

when anne and i reach out to artists about sneak peeks, we’re always pleasantly surprised by each home. one home in particular caught my eye because of its collection of vintage artwork. the home belonged to jenny hart of sublime stitching and was bursting with beautiful collections of vintage paintings. i’ve always been curious about art arranging and most recently, vintage art sourcing, so i though it would be fun to interview jenny about her collection and share her advice for living with vintage artwork. so, i hope you’ll enjoy her tips after the jump. thanks to jenny and jessica for their help with this post!

about jenny: jenny hart is an artist based in austin, texas known for her elaborate embroidered portraits. she is also the founder sublime stitching, a small, indie company launched in 2001 with the mission to introduce fresh, alternative designs and resources for the once-dying hobby of hand embroidery. she is the author of three titles for chronicle books and three more titles are due for release june 2009.

CLICK HERE for jenny’s interview and tips for living with, sourcing and arranging vintage artwork.

From Jenny Hart: “I often get asked if I collect anything. The truth is, I don’t really. Mainly I try to collect things from within my own family before they get discarded. But I do surround myself with things that I love, that have stories to them, and carry personal significance. My house has become what it is slowly, over time (I’ve lived in this house for about eight years). And without spending lots of money. I just collect things that I love to look at and use and have around me at home. It can take time for them to settle in and find their place, but these things just end up going well together!”

D*S: what is it about vintage/antique artwork that you love?

JH: That’s hard to say. I think of drawings and paintings as precious things. They represent something fleeting and unique. I’ve been collecting paintings (portraits mostly) for nearly ten years. It takes time. I love rescuing an overlooked piece that is done by an extremely talented artist. Those are my favorites.

D*S: How do you find vintage artwork- do you have any tips for other trying to build a collection or find the perfect piece?

JH: It’s a hunt, so you just have to keep your eyes open. Take your time and don’t invest a lot of money on a piece you’re unsure you love. Don’t buy from dealers if you’re just starting out- check out garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores, estate sales. Look for boxes of frames.

The most important thing when collecting art is to get what speaks to you. It’s really not so much about “Is this a good piece? Is it well done? Is it worth $200?” The question is if you like it, and would enjoy having it in your home, and afford it and all that jazz. That’s the rule when collecting art: collect what you love. And, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on vintage paintings. The most I have ever paid for a painting was $260. One of the best portraits I found was $4.50 at a Salvation Army in Nebraska. A pastel portrait signed “1945” with a gallery tag from New York City on the back.

I really like little landscapes, portraits and florals. Which is lucky for me, because there are a ton of them to be had. I make a habit of collecting things that are readily available, subjective to my own tastes, and might take time to cross my path. Paintings are perfect!

D*S: Do you have any tips for arranging vintage art, or displaying it?

JH: I’m a sucker for an organic ‘salon style’ because it allows you to be lazy about decorating, looks cozy yet sophisticated, and lets you look forward to filling in the bare spots to find ‘just the right piece’ in due time. I think it helps to have one piece anchoring the wall and building around that.

D*S: Do you have any tips for mixing contemporary pieces with vintage?

JH: Spreading it around helps. So much of current aesthetic trends complement mid-century and vintage furniture, so it’s easy to do. My tastes are a dubious blend of mid-century industrial and fluffy, romantic cottage.

D*S: Could you tell us the story behind your favorite piece vintage artwork in your home?

JH: I really wish that I knew more of the stories behind the works I own. So many of them are intriguing mysteries. Years ago, I spotted a small oil painting on ebay and splurged on it ($63). It turned out to be an incredibly beautiful, early-to-mid-19th century piece. It was probably a study of another work made by a student. I’m not so sure though, and would love to know the real history. It’s my favorite painting of them all (but please don’t tell the others).

Looking for preservation Tips? Try these sites: here and here.

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  • Wow, I have one of those exact paintings. It’s the bottom painting in your last photo. The artist is Starek I believe. I picked mine up for 10 cents in a thrift stored in a tiny town of West Columbia, TX. I painted the frame white and had it on a green wall. My wife keeps trying to make me get rid of it, but I love it!

  • Love way vintage art looks when it’s grouped together.

    FYI – Grace, there doesn’t seem to be a link to your email address on the contact page. Is this an error? I’d love to send you a link to a design*sponge worthy artist here in Canada.

  • David- How cool! That’s a textured print called “New York View” and mine has the name “Stareck” in the lower right corner too. This was hanging in my great aunt’s house, and was going to the curb!

    Thanks for all the kind remarks. I also wanted to point out that the painting I mention in the last paragraph (the mid-19th century oil) is visible in the first photo. It’s the nude water nymph. Enjoy!

  • I adore the salon look and Jenny is right, thrift stores, etc. are bursting with vintage art and frames.
    I pick only what I love and things seem to organically come together over time at home. It’s a very relaxed way to approach decorating your space…to know that what you need will come to you, with patience.

  • I love these vintage pieces! My parents owned an antique store when I was very small, and I guess it just seeped into my blood. :P

    The one I keep going back to is the red-and-purple horizontal nature scene. What in the world is that?

    Thanks for sharing your great finds, Jenny!

  • I’m from Texas and grew up on the coast, and I’ll be damned if this doesn’t remind me of exactly what my grandmother’s house looked like. It is so comforting, I can already smell it and hear a rooster crow.
    I am a fan.

  • Hi, I’m from Mexico. Please, excuse my english.. Is Chantal Menard Bonamie the girl on the right picture, the one who’s eating an apple?
    Thanks, I enjoy very much your bulletin

  • I to have the Stareck I found it hidden behind other paintings at a fleamarket and got it for 10 dollars mine is faded/different color scheme and weathered a bit but it sunshine to me it’s our dream to eventually live there and the painting is over our headboard be ause the painting deals like the dream