Mpls. collectors' home is like a gallery

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2011 - 7:36 AM

A collecting couple, motivated by love not value, creates a European-inspired home filled with quirky finds.

What do you get when you mix collectibles from many eras and cultures into one stylistic stew?

You could easily end up with visual indigestion.

But collectors Jamie Becker and Wayne Beauchemin have found the recipe for blending Asian, Russian, Mexican, French, African and Scandinavian artifacts into an artfully balanced melange.

"It feels like a European house," said Becker, describing the Minneapolis home that they've filled with finds collected over the decades. Becker has made more than 50 trips to the continent, many during his career in visual marketing for Dayton's, Marshall Field's and Macy's (he's now retired), where he scoured French flea markets.

"We're both Francophiles," Becker said. "That's been the inspiration. In Europe, people have a mishmash of ethnic influences."

Their dining room, for example, features an antique Irish farm table, a Tibetan chest, Russian biscuit tins, Chinese figures, French pottery and Swedish glassware, as well as pieces by contemporary artists.

That's this month's dining room, at least.

Becker and Beauchemin alter their decor frequently, rotating pieces in and out of the lineup, and accenting with a revolving gallery of Becker's own paintings. "We move our collections so much -- about three times a year," he said.

Sometimes they even repaint rooms accordingly. A burst water pipe, for example, called for fresh paint in the dining room. But instead of repainting in sage green, the color that set off their collection of crosses from Santa Fe, they chose Wedgwood blue, the better to complement an array of ornaments that Becker once designed in collaboration with the British pottery maker for a store promotion.

While many collectors start broadly and later home in on a target, Becker and Beauchemin have gone the other direction, getting more eclectic.

"Our first pieces were mostly Mexican," Beauchemin said. They started adding European pieces after they started traveling there in the late '80s.

They'll go out of their way to find unique items. In Oaxaca, Mexico, for example, "We hired a kid to take us to artistic homes," Becker said. That excursion led them to an artist who sold them a striking and unusual platter, sculpted with spiders and snakes.

After 27 years together, they know what each other likes, and they usually like the same things. "We have the same taste," Becker said.

Well, almost the same, Beauchemin amended. "That print I bought: 'Little Chicks.'"

"I hated it," Becker said. "It's in the basement."

Becker and Beauchemin collect things they love, not those that they think will increase in value.

"We're not serious collectors but some of the stuff we've collected ended up being serious," Becker said. That includes two paintings by American primitive artist Lee Godie. Godie was a "bag lady" who, in the early '70s, was a fixture on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago. She painted there and sometimes sold her canvases -- "if she liked you," said Becker, who was a graduate student there at the time. She sold him two pieces for $5 each. Godie, who died in 1994, has become a highly collectible artist, her works displayed in museums and sold at exclusive galleries.

Their most prized pieces have personal value. Becker treasures an Art Deco vase that his mother gave him. "I've had it my entire life," he said.

Beauchemin's personal favorite: "My Virgin Mary under glass. I bought it in Connecticut, and it brings back memories," he said.

"Some of the little things are my favorite things," said Becker, citing a matchbox from Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle, the New York hotel. The bar is named for Ludwig Bemelman, writer and illustrator of the "Madeline" children's books, and the matchbox, decorated with one of his paintings, shows a monkey serving dinner to rabbits. "I paid a cover charge of $50 just so I could get it," he recalled.

A house filled with quirky collectibles is a great ice-breaker at social gatherings. "For people just meeting, there are so many conversation pieces," Becker said.

Even at large parties, theft and breakage have been extremely rare events, they said. In fact, most of their casualties have been self-inflicted. "I've broken things," Becker said. "But I usually don't tell Wayne."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

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