A Casual Conversation with a Serious Art Collector


Peter Max, Andy Warhol with a Mustache

It is an absolute pleasure to visit a home of a real art collector, full of original art, and It’s an absolute crime that I don’t get to do it that often. I recently had the opportunity to visit the home of Dr. Jim and Paulie Harken, and talk to them about collecting art.  

A Visit with an Art Collector

Before I tell you about the Harken’s and collecting art, I feel like I should give you a little background information. Not only is Dr. Harken an art collector, he is my personal dentist, and the only dentist that I have ever taken my pearly whites to.  He’s the best. When I was a kid, his dentist office was full of paintings. Big paintings, interesting paintings, and they were constantly changing. I never have looked forward to going to the dentist, but I would always love to sit in the waiting area and look at the paintings.

"Children of Santa Fe, Vladin Stina

Dr. Harken is a very active force in the local art scene, and travels to many of the regional art shows and auctions. This was not the first time I had been to the Harken home, and when I do visit, I love to look and see what’s new.

Having said that, I wanted to write an article about an art collector and gather information from an expert who is not an artist. Hello Dr. Harken! He and Mrs. Harken graciously said yes and we visited while a Seattle Mariner game was on the television in the background, and below the watchful presence of a huge Peter Max painting.

I had a list of about ten questions or so, a pad and a pen. He talked, I listened, and wrote. I tried to keep it casual, and I hope you will find something useful here…

Art Collector 101 

  1. How did you get started as an art collector? Dr. Harken stated that it was his late wife Joanne who was taking a humanities class in art appreciation at Eastern Washington University and really liked the class. She ended up buying a painting that the instructor had done, and brought it home. Dr. Harken didn’t really care for it all that much. Later, on a trip to Hawaii, the Harkens went to some art galleries. In one particular gallery, after about two or three hours and a private room, he was the proud owner of five new paintings. He still has all five, but not the first one Joanne bought.

  2. What, besides the piece of art itself, do you consider when making an art purchase? (Your overall collection, price, where to hang, etc.) “Quality above all else.” He looks for art that he feels has value. He also personnally likes a touch of the color red. Dr. Harken mentioned that he long ago crossed the threshold about where to hang or whether or not he has room on a wall.

  3. Do you consider Art an investment? “Yes. Although some may disagree.” Mr. Harken did say that the average cart ollector should not be looking at art that way. “Most people don’t get deep enough to tell the difference between art as an investment, and something they like because it looks good. Most people just like the way it looks.” He then looked at his wife Paulie and smiled. 

  4. Where do you like to purchase art? (Galleries, auctions, artist’s studios) “All of the above. Estate sales too.”

  5. Do you negotiate with galleries, artist’s, other collectors?  “Yes. If there’s anything under the sun, I’ve done it.” Mr. Harken also stated that “every transaction has got to be a win win.” He also gave an example: If an artist wants $1000 for a painting, and a buyer only wants to spend $500, If everything else is equal, you work towards bringing the two numbers closer together. If the artist really needs the $500 to pay rent, he or she is more likely to bring their price down somewhat. In this scenario, Dr. Harken feels it’s a win win because the artist was able to pay the rent, and the buyer was able to win by getting a painting closer to his budget. Dr. Harken mentioned a story he heard the singer Willie Nelson tell on the radio. Mr. Nelson was being interviewed, and was asked a question regarding how he felt when he sold a couple of songs that he had written for a mere $50 each. The songs in question went on to become big hits for other artists.  Mr. Nelson said he didn’t feel bad at all, as he needed the $50.

  6. Do You have a personal favorite piece?  A long pause ensues…”Probably the Lau Chung triptych.” Why? “It’s very serene, highly decorative, and has a high value.” 

  7. Is their a piece that got a way that you wish you would have bought?Another long pause…”Probably a big landscape by Clyde Aspevig.” He went on to say that it was probably 40″ x 60″ or so, and there were some big galleries bidding against each other, and it just didn’t work out.

  8. What is your overall feeling about the art market today as you travel around and visit shows and galleries? “It’s coming back slowly. The really fine pieces are selling. The really low end is selling, but nobody can make a living selling it. The main market are the really high end auctions.

  9. What advice would you give to people who would like to start an art collection? “Talk to someone that already collects. They need to know the how, the why, and what to look for. If they don’t, they will be in for the high pressure salesman.” He went on to say that an art collector does not have to have a lot of money to start collecting art. They have to make the art collection a priority. He also mentioned that some galleries and artists will allow people to pay over time for art, making it easier to purchase.

  10. Any advice for artists from an art collectors point of view? “Develop people skills. Develop personal skills. Learn to draw. Without the basics, you will never get there. Famous artists can draw.”

Lau Chung, tryptich

 That concluded the conversation, and we then looked around the house, talking about some of the paintings and sculptures. I took a few photos and left. I thought the answer on that last question was particularly interesting. He mentioned people and personal skills right away, firmly and without hesitation. He mentioned drawing after those two. Interesting. If you need help with your people skills, go to this article about talking to people . I also thought it was good when he said that you don’t have to have a lot of money to be an art collector, which is good to know for most of us! 

Reine Des Pres, August Moreau Meadin

 Want to be an Art collector?

Listen to what an experienced art collector has to say, add more knowledge, find the kind of art you really love, and  start going to shows and gallerys to see what’s out there.

Artists, listen to someone from the other side of the transaction to see if you can learn something that may help you in your conversations with other art collectors.     






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  1. […] Barbie dolls, etc. I really don’t know why people collect, they just do. The home of a serious art collector is a thing to behold […]

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