Elaine Estes remembers as a child when she and her parents would visit antique stores and sales to find items for their various collections.
“My mother and father were collectors, and the three of us did everything together,” she says. “I grew up finding things.”
That’s why Estes’ home is filled with items from her own collections and those she inherited from her parents and grandparents.
Estes describes herself as an eclectic collector of mostly decorative arts items. She has about 18 collections of such things as cast iron cookware, glass, porcelain, pottery, textiles, canes, mourning and funeral items, books and items related to the World’s Fair.
The collections easily fill most rooms in her historic house. “I’m not particularly interested in starting any additional collections,” she says with a smile.
Collecting fits naturally with Estes’ professional background. She worked almost 40 years for the Des Moines public library system, and says collecting is a field where one is constantly learning.
When Estes acquires an item, she researches it and tries to learn as much about it as possible. For example, she recently added a new basket to her collection. She was drawn to it because of its shape, the materials used to make it, and its color and design. Now she plans to research how it was made, the maker, its primary producer and the type of materials used, among other things.
Part of the reason Estes is a collector is because she believes in preservation. She serves on the Des Moines Historic Preservation Commission, is a member of The Questers, and serves on Terrace Hill’s society, foundation and commission boards.
One of the best ways to learn about items, she says, is from other collectors. She often shares her knowledge with others through presentations and writing papers for an Iowa antique group.
Many of Estes’ collections started with things given to her when she was a child. She has continued to add to them throughout the years from visits to antique stores and estate sales.
For every occassion
Kelsey Hastings has a shoe collection that most women would envy.
“I think I’m addicted, possibly,” she says with a laugh.
Hastings, 24, has more than 100 pairs of shoes, so many in fact, that she can’t keep them all in her downtown loft. She moved with three duffle bags of shoes but had to keep the rest at her parents’ house while she attends Des Moines University.
“The ones I brought were functional shoes, my favorite pairs of going-out shoes and fancy, fun shoes,” Hastings says.
She admits some of the shoes aren’t comfortable, but she still keeps them because they’re pretty. And through her physical therapy studies at DMU, Hastings has learned that some of her shoes aren’t good for her feet.
“After I learned a little more about them, some had to be retired,” she says.
Among her collection are eight pairs of tennis shoes, which she admits “is a little excessive.” She also has lots of heels and flats, which she relies on for school.
She also has a pair of heels that her grandmother saw and made her think of Hastings. They have glass door knobs for the heel.
Hastings says her shoe obsessions started in eighth grade — at least that’s when she noticed that she was acquiring more and more shoes. She even had her high school senior picture taken with some of her favorite shoes.
Since then, she says it’s gotten worse. Her dad told her to stop buying shoes, so she quit telling her parents when she purchased a new pair.
“I’ve bought shoes I liked but didn’t have anything to wear with them, and then I had to hunt to find an outfit to wear with them,” Hastings says.
She says she buys shoes mostly based on looks and isn’t a designer snob yet because she doesn’t have the income to support it. Sometimes she’ll buy the same shoe style in multiple colors; other times she buys several pair of shoes in the same color if her mood strikes her to do so.
“Sometimes I can tell what mood I was in when I bought them because I’ll buy all the same color, which then forces me to go shopping again because I only have yellow shoes,” she says.
Hastings says her favorite designer is Steve Madden.
“Maybe one day I’ll have Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos,” she says.
She says her current favorite pair of shoes is a pair of green canvas shoes she bought online that have an elephant and a tree hand painted on them.
Love of art
Karolyn Sherwood Graham says her children influenced her art preferences. She had four sons six years apart, “so it only made since I wanted quiet art,” she says. “Everything I have is quite minimalistic.”
Sherwood Graham took a few art classes in college but admits she wasn’t talented enough to make it a career. Then she started collecting pieces and realized she could sell art to her interior design clients. She went to several galleries and soon fell more in love with selling artwork than interior design and shifted careers.
For seven years, she worked in and later owned an art gallery, where she represented artists, many of whose pieces now reside in her downtown loft.
Sherwood Graham’s art collection consists of contemporary art, mostly paintings and drawings with a few photographs. Her collection is made up of two categories. One involves blue chip prints from the best of the best artists whose work appears in museums. These include Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Ryman.Then she also has several original works done by artists whom she represented in her gallery.
“They were primarily from New York,” Sherwood Graham says. “My mission as a dealer was to go to New York, find the artists who I thought were incredible and do wonderful things, and bring their work back to Des Moines and to showcase it to people who had probably never seen it or would never see it if they didn’t get to the galleries in New York.”
These are considered mid-career artists whose work at the time was already in major private collections and in shows around the world and beginning to appear in museums.
“Most people won’t recognize their names, but if you Google them you’ll find them,” Sherwood Graham says.
Among her collection are pieces by Gary Komarin, whom she says has really taken off as an artist, Sabine Fricke, Richard Humann, Luis Roldán and Larassa Kabel, an Iowa artist.
“I never brought anything in my gallery to sell that I wouldn’t have wanted myself,” she says. “That was always my first criteria. I wanted them to be well established but still financially accessible, and I had to love the work.”
Sherwood Graham says she would have her eye on a piece, and if it didn’t sell, she considered it fair game to purchase for her own collection.
“A lot of the pieces I have were pieces I had in exhibition, and I was thrilled to get my hands on,” she says.
Sherwood Graham says her favorite piece in her collection is a 6-by-5.5-foot painting by Roldán, who was trained as an architect and then decided architecture was too restrictive and he became a painter. She says his paintings have very strong architectural features with rich colors. The painting on her living room wall is bright red with subtle splashes of other colors.
She has between 50 and 60 pieces of artwork, most of which are displayed in her downtown loft. Others are located at her husband Wayne’s office.