Sunday, July 25, 2021

Pens With Customer Service

As we all know the world changes and the term “New and Improved” drives me crazy because as we get older, we often crave what we had in the past, e.g. I collect fountain pens.

I have written twice before about this passion of mine. In those postings in 2014 and 2016, which you can find by going to Missives from the Art World and putting Fountain Pens in the search box, I wrote about Santa Fe’s local pen shop, called as you would expect, Santa Fe Pens. I am happy to report it survived the Pandemic and is still functioning.

As I have learned different fountain pens write differently on different kinds of paper, and different nibs help you write differently, I started to collect more and more pens! As nice as Santa Fe Pens is they have a limited selection and I wanted to learn and see more.

A friend who also collects pens suggested that I focus on one area. I love wood so I particularly enjoy wood fountain pens and found online, Lanier pens. Jim Lanier is a wood worker who loves pens. From his home workshop in Washington state, he started a company in 2005 handmaking signature pens. He has a nice choice of different woods but in the end it is the same pen with a different shell. Aside from wood he answers any enquiries personally.

Still there are so many other types of pens that I cannot resist. Several pen stores have come to me through the post or email. One which had an incredible choice of pens was very unresponsive to me and gave me a hard time, so I forgot about it. Just like a bad meal at a restaurant you won’t go back to, although the chef may have changed three times in the interim.

Another email was from a pen store in Columbia, Maryland called appropriately enough “Pen Boutique”. It is both, small in size, and 20 miles from Baltimore … a far piece to go, just to look at pens, but through the internet I learned about the company owner, Leena Shrestha-Menon. In 2004, she had the idea to start a business in a field she was passionate about. … She just loved pens and found it was easy and enjoyable to speak to people about them. She was particularly fond of fountain pens which “glide on the paper”. According to Leena opening her shop, “was not as easy as I thought. Distributors were skeptical, mall management was not swayed by beautiful pens, and financiers thought I was out of my mind.” but she persevered

Leena says, and I believe her, that Pen Boutique’s most important asset is her belief in Customer Service. Once on the mailing list you will certainly get ads telling you about the newest hot pen or ink available, but you also will often see a personal story from Leena about her kids or an illness in the family. When she wrote that she was the victim of a hate crime, she got so many responses she could not handle them all and wrote a general thank you. I have asked her some personal questions a while back like, like where she was from, and learned that she is from Nepal. This is not just a hobby, and she is a businesswoman, so her emails often end, “Keep on Writing” with a selection of pens and ink etc. In this day and age, to feel so close to a business, particularly one online, is incredible. An email that came in recently: 

To prove again my point about Customer Service, I forgot which pens I had bought from Pen Boutique, I wrote, not having much hope of receiving an answer. But sure enough, and to my pleasant surprise, by that afternoon one of Leena’s employees sent me the list. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have such a personal relationship with more businesses that we interact with? I believe it would make for a much more copacetic world.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

In Memoriam: Richard Brockway Stolley

Richard (Dick, as he was known) Stolley died on June 16. I considered him a close friend though I never even dined with him. I am honored to say he was a loyal fan of these Missives.

Richard Stolley at Time/Life Magazine, 1972
Photo: Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

I met Dick on the board of the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe. He was a most self-effacing person and I only learned from others that he was the founding editor of ‘People Magazine’ which became one of the most successful publications in the country. According to The New York Times, it “changed the course of American publishing with its personality driven approach to Journalism I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to point out Facebook, Linked In, & Twitter are its internet age spinoffs.

Dick Stolley was with Time, Inc. for six decades . As a major writer for Life Magazine, he covered the Civil Rights movements of over a half a century ago. His greatest coup was acquiring for his magazine the Zapruder film of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK). I remember the scramble of journalists to get ahold of those frames. How was I to know that over 50 years later I would be meeting that hero of the time.

Dick Stolley looking back

In an interview in the 1970’s he said “pretty sells better than ugly, young sells better than old, movies sells better than TV, TV sells better than sports and anything sells better than politics.” Unfortunately, I fear the last is no longer true.

In 2019 I wrote a Missive about an interview I had with Dick, with other anecdotes.

I have been writing these Missives for about 12 years now and, of course, I love it when people write to say they enjoyed this or that Missive but when someone of Dick’s stature with his background tells me he likes my writing, for me, it validates my efforts.

Unfortunately, in his last few years he moved to a retirement home in the Midwest, so our conversations were left to email. He replied to most of my Missives on Monday morning with just simple statements. I wrote in one Missive that my wife, an art historian, did not agree with me on a matter. His reply was, “Art in America is more powerful because experts like you and your wife do NOT agree!!!”

I told Dick once that my wife edited my blog and then I sometimes reedited it. His reply “more to the editorial point, to the rewrite belongs the victor!”

I do hope many of my readers can identify with his greatest compliment to me, “This gave me something to do and enjoy for 20 minutes, thus relieving my boredom for a change, and I am jammed with gratitude! Merci bien, Dick.”

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Kids Have Arrived

For 4 days at the end of June we had 3 children and 3 grandchildren with us: An embarrassment of riches. Unfortunately, as much as New Mexico needs it we had rain showers and storms during that time interrupting many of our activities.

What is the substitute for actually doing something? You probably guessed it … eating. I am justifying this segway in my Missives under the rubric, the Art of Food.

The first night our son, Hunter hosted an outdoor barbecue, grilling delicious hamburgers and cheeseburgers and his wife, Mallory, prepared all kinds of sides, guacamole, chips, salsa and salad. The next night we went to El Farol, a tapas restaurant. During the pandemic they built a large patio behind the old restaurant and even had a fountain set in with a crane, which our 20-month-old granddaughter adored and kept running around it.

As you probably know in Spanish cuisine tapas are small dishes, so everyone shares and passes them around. In the end it turns out that you eat a lot more food than if you had just one main plate! The good news ... it was all delicious.

I won’t do any other restaurant reviews, but we ate out for a couple of other lunches and dinners. The last night that we were all together was a bit mysterious. I was told it had to do with my Father’s Day present and that was it. All I could think was what other restaurant could we be going to and why was that a gift for me.

Again, we had rain and spent much of the day inside and during the afternoon there was much discussion of a promised delivery. The later it got the more urgent everyone felt it was, by then I realized it was dinner that was coming. When I learned delivery had been guaranteed before 7pm, I went on about how a shipment I had been told “was on the truck for delivery” and had ostensibly sat on that truck for 3 days before it arrived. Adding to the urgency was the baby’s bedtime that had to be kept in mind. Everyone got nervous enough that my wife and daughter went to the corner store and brought back three roasted chickens and a large salad. My daughter set to work on cutting it up and making a lovely platter. But the chicken dinner that was not to be. 

As soon as they finished the doorbell rang and the delivery was made at 6:30pm.

It turned out to be a Sushi dinner … I LOVE sushi. The twist was that it was”DIY”, Do it yourself sushi! In other words, the rice, seaweed wrap, and fish all came separately with some instructions and an online video, which no one watched.

This was a gift from my older son and daughter, and it came from Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York via the website Goldbelly. That is the equivalent of long distance Grubhub or Doordash. The large box that came had ice inside guaranteed to last for 48 hours or more.

The kids got started. My older son, Dan, heated fried crispy rice in a pan. Then all got together to create a sushi platter Here is my granddaughter, Lucy, preparing a spicy tuna roll and “experienced” hands of my son Dan. 

I could take it easy since it was my present! In truth, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do it and did not realize that my kids were so expert.

It was an incredible feast with tuna, spicy tuna, salmon, scallops, and shrimp and . soy sauce, wasabi and ginger also included. Here is the beautiful and tasty result. 

We finished every last bit of it. What a Father’s Day present!

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Inspired to be Collectors

Starting where I left off in my last Missive: “Art could never be commercially explained. Why do people fall in love with a piece of art. Unfortunately, in recent times some think of it as investment or fill in the blanks like a stamp collection, but most people still buy for the thrill of discovery and love of the work.”

Since I closed my gallery in New York in 2014 I have called myself an art consultant. Not that I am averse to my former profession and, every once in a while, might sell something! Most of the time, however, I simply encourage people to love art and collecting. This Missive is a prime example.

I guess I should be charging for these consults but since I do not depend on them to eat, I often do it without charge. I believe the one advantage to growing old is all the experience and knowledge we have gained along the way.

Here in Santa Fe, I have a very small office in a small office building. You can imagine my surprise, or possibly not, when a very beautiful woman, a model, came in and sat down opposite me. She was just coming through Santa Fe with a group focused on its art and especially the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the artist’s home.

She had seen my name possibly from “Missives from the Art World” or the provenance in an auction catalog and mistakenly thought I had a gallery here. I had disabused her of that thought before she arrived, but she wanted to see me anyway. She had bought some paintings in a sale from a former clients of ours, Jayne and Charles Wrightsman. Charles died some time ago but Jayne lived on to 2019 as a powerful trustee of the Metropolitan Museum. She left most of the art in their homes to the Metropolitan but some of what remained, possibly pieces that were already duplicated in the Met, went to auction.

Jayne Wrightsman
(Cecil Beaton/Condé Nast, via Getty Images)

My visitor was a new collector who wanted to learn more about Mrs. Wrightsman and the art world. She asked a very intelligent question, which few ask “Can you recommend some books from which I could learn more.” I was thrilled, here was an individual who wanted to get involved in an area that she clearly had not been able to spend much time studying being very busy with her career.

Another great experience I have had in recent months was contact with a lawyer who is in my children’s age group, and lives in Valentine, Nebraska. Was there really a town by that name? Well, it seems it is very popular around the time of a holiday by the same name as people can send cards with the Valentine post office stamp on their envelopes. My new friend had found me on the web and was interested in the same collector as the model. He turned out to be seriously interested in French 18th century decorative arts, the field in which my gallery had been preeminent. I could not believe it. He was also intrigued by many other kinds of older art, and we began corresponding about the art world. He had particularly enjoyed my missives on the clients we have had over the years. So, to make what has become a very long story short, I have a pen pal and we correspond on a regular basis about art, auction sales and other related subjects.

I am going to end with a story I recently saw online about a couple who live in another small town, Minot, North Dakota. What sparked their interest in art in the first place I have no idea but a trip to a New York art fair sold them on collecting. In my opinion they did everything right learning from the most qualified dealers in vetted art fairs and going on from there. Read their story and let me know what you think.

Mentorship is the most rewarding endeavor whether you give it or take it. Not sure if you would think of it In that way, but after collecting Native American art for about 30 years there is so much that I do not fully comprehend about Native American life and culture, and I am so excited to have a few Native Americans in Santa Fe who are willing to teach me as we go along.