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Smart ways to shop for art you’ll be proud to display in your home

Updated: Mar. 22, 2021, 8:23 a.m. | Published: Mar. 16, 2021, 7:52 p.m.

By Janet Eastman | The Oregonian/OregonLive

Mia Hall Miller wasn’t expecting a painting to change her life when she wandered through the Art in the Pearl fine arts and crafts festival over Labor Day weekend years ago.

Although the Portland music educator and conductor had never purchased original art before, she liked looking at the sculptures, glass pieces and other works. Once she entered the Lawrence Gallery, however, she says she fell in love. On the wall was a large, mostly blue abstract painting.

“It spoke to me,” says Miller. “I showed an interest in it and I was invited to take it home to try it out. That was a big step for me.”

She hung the piece, titled Clallum II, by Fred Holcomb on a wall she sees when she’s playing piano and giving singing lessons.

That was 14 years ago. Miller, who has since married an art appreciator, says she still feels the same rush when she sees her first artistic love. Staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic has reinforced that it was the right match.

“We have all learned that you have to find ways to feed your soul,” says Miller, who is the founder and artistic director of Portland’s Pacific Youth Choir. “Having something beautiful in your home gives you beauty, which you can then share with the world.”

Mia Hall Miller bought this painting titled Clallum II by Fred Holcomb at the Lawrence Gallery.

Matt Miller

Art is Essential

The art in your home should be worthy of being seen alongside your most precious family treasure, but it cannot intimidate you. This visual expression of your emotions should feel as comfortable to you as a favorite chair, say experts.

Its value is how it engages your mind and senses, and forces you to think, act, be different.

The best encouragement to new art buyers: Art is available in all prices, from a few dollars to multi-millions, and there is no hurry to find pieces you will cherish.

Before you measure your walls and open your wallet, open your eyes to art.

Art makes a space come alive, says Portland interior designer Robert Trotman, who since 1986 has worked with serious collectors as well as people who are well traveled but have never walked into a gallery.

“Art gives a room depth and personality,” he says. “It’s hard to get personality out of a gray sofa. But put a painting above it, and the room is transformed.”

The goal: To have your home be artful, functional, comfortable and inviting. And reflect who you are.

But how? Searching through the vast array of art themes, colors and styles can be overwhelming.

“People think that unless they’re ready to buy right now there’s no reason to visit a gallery,” Trotman says. “But visiting galleries is a great way to educate yourself and find out what you like.”

Another misconception: The only art for sale in a gallery is the particular artist’s show on the walls. “There are probably 1,500 works not on display by dozens of artists the gallery represents,” says Trotman, “and if you ask to look at those, you might find something you like.”

Social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 temporarily closed museums and limits the number of people who can be inside a gallery at one time. But art is still being created, collected and viewed, often online.

Expanding the audience interested in artists from all points of view is a mission of the Portland In Color directory.

Celeste Noche, the online hub’s co-founder, says artists leaned more on PatreonTikTok and Instagram live to connect with their communities when exhibit doors temporarily closed and events were canceled due to the coronavirus.

Noche, a Filipino American documentary and editorial photographer who moved to Portland from San Francisco, says the lockdown year impacted working artists economically and emotionally, and highlighted the limited aid available to them. Many do not qualify for unemployment despite losing income.

“If anything, I would say the pandemic has demonstrated how much we need and rely on art, yet how few systems are in place to support artists,” she says.

Through Portland in Color, people can contact artists directly for commissions or to support or follow their work.

Art at Your Convenience

The 40-year-old Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland has shifted with the times. Instead of printing postcards to invite people to attend a show in person, live-streaming openings and artist talks are posted on Facebook and YouTube to encourage hesitant people to step into the art world at their own pace.

Gallery Director Daniel Peabody says galleries such as his have a mission to promote art and artists, and the audience is growing. A livestream talk by painter Mark R. Smith received comments from an art appreciator in Seoul, South Korea.

Some people who see works of interest online ask to see them in person, and that’s just another step in learning about art. It’s not a commitment. “Eighty percent of the people who come here aren’t buyers but people who want to look at art,” says Peabody.

Elizabeth Leach Gallery offers appointments for socially distant, in-person visits between 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturdays (503-224-0521 or But don’t let the lack of an appointment stop you. The staff may also be able to accommodate visitors who knock on the door.

“Galleries are a relationship-based business,” says Peabody, whose customers include longtime clients, their grown children and grandchildren. The gallery also has longstanding relationships with artists who create in a range of mediums and prices.

Peabody believes everyone deserves to live with great art.

The gallery’s Print Wall program showcases affordable photographs, prints and other artworks on paper. Customers can have up to six months to purchase an artwork. Art Money, an online lender, can spread payments out longer.

“There have been changes on a number of fronts, but it’s pleasing to see that people are going back to the core of what gives them pleasure: Time with their family and art,” says Peabody. “These are feeding us when other avenues of engagement have shifted.”

There are about 35 galleries in Portland and a multitude of online sellers await potential buyers at all price points. Search for Oregon artists, for instance, on sites like ArtsyArtfinder and 1stdibs.


How to hang art in your home and create a captivating gallery wall

Five Steps to Buying Art

Trotman, a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers as well as a trustee of the Portland Art Museum, offers this advice to enter the world of art with confidence:

Familiarize yourself with art. Visit museums and galleries, and attend artists’ fairs and benefit auctions in person if possible or online. Look at auction catalogs and art websites, and sign up for art newsletters.

As do most galleries, PDX Contemporary Art has online information about artists like James Lavadour and images of works for sale.

“When you find artwork you like online, go to the gallery and ask to see more,” says Trotman. “Gallery owners are pleased to give you an artist’s biography and talk to you about the artwork you like.”

Discover what appeals to you. After looking at a lot of art, “you could find, for example, that everything you like is black and white. That’s a whole genre in itself,” says Trotman.

A way to know more: Many art museums have a rental sales gallery such as the one across Southwest 10th Avenue from the Portland Art Museum. Here, you can look at works by 250 established and emerging artists and rent an original piece for three months for the price of your water bill. Afterward, if you love it, you can buy it.

“This is a great way to find out if it’s worth it to spend $3,500 on a piece of art,” says Trotman. “If you continue to love it, it’s an investment in your happiness.”

Establish a budget. If original art is beyond your budget, ask about limited-edition prints and reproductions, which are widely available, especially works by famous artists.

The Portland Fine Art Print Fair, sponsored by the Portland Art Museum, was an online event this year. Forty-seven exhibitors offered more than 2,000 works of art on paper. Works that sold included “Wharves,” a drypoint of Monterey Bay from 1937 by American artist Jeannette Maxfield Lewis as well as woodblock prints, mezzotints, photographs and lithographs.

Galleries that specialize in prints price them from around $90 to thousands of dollars for blue-chip prints by Warhol and others, says Trotman.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your budget. “Just say, ‘I have $750 to spend’” and a gallery will show you prints, says Trotman. “Then, if you see something you like, you can ask to take it home on approval.”

Trotman saw an oil painting by Portland artist Tom Cramer in the window of the Russo Lee Gallery on Northwest 21st Avenue and called to ask how much it cost.

Hire an art advisor who understands your aesthetic taste and has knowledge and connections to galleries and artists.

Trotman shows his clients photos of potential purchases and when something catches their eye, he has the art delivered to their home to see how it looks. “There is no obligation. If it doesn’t work, we try something else,” he says. “Most clients are busy and this helps them make a decision.”

Design based on art. Rather than matching a painting to the sofa, let the interior decor be inspired by the hues, style and mood of chosen artwork.

Trotman prefers furnishings in neutral colors with subtle patterns that are interesting and feel comfortable and inviting but don’t distract from a beautiful piece of art, which should be the focal point.

He says a cream-colored room brings attention to a red abstract painting as it would a bouquet of flowers.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072 @janeteastman

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