Fine art collections - Amy Werntz (b. 1979),
Amy Werntz (b. 1979), "Blue Scarf," 2020, oil on panel, 8 x 10 in.

Contemporary Art Collections: David Gulley and Kenneth J. Paul, Jr.

Their personal journeys to becoming art collectors were very different but now have converged to bring them much joy.

David enjoyed making art in his youth. At home his parents displayed artworks, yet the act of collecting did not become “real” until he accompanied his father to an auction around the age of 12. Previously David had not considered where art comes from, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that he started acquiring it while earning a B.F.A. degree in interior design alongside ceramists, printmakers, and other creative types. He fondly recalls “dipping into my grocery money to buy art from my equally poor friends,” pieces he still cherishes.

By contrast, Ken grew up admiring “catalogues of beautiful things” but bought only reproductions (like prints) to furnish his homes. He discovered the joy of owning original art when he met David, and their first purchase together was a painting by Melinda Spear-Huff from an Indianapolis gallery. David remembers stopping by to pay, only to learn that Ken had already bought it for him as a gift. Fortunately, such moments of mental telepathy happen to them every so often.

David and Ken expanded their collecting journey together by visiting galleries first in Indianapolis, then throughout Indiana, which has a rich artistic heritage. (The best-known “Hoosier” art comes from scenic Brown County, where a colony of landscape painters formed in the 19th century and remains active.) The couple started meeting not only dealers but also the artists themselves, which, Ken says, “makes all the difference in our appreciation of their works.”

Raymond (Ray) Bonilla (b. 1983), "Across the Street from Mom and Dad’s," 2019, oil on panel, 12 x 24 in.
Raymond (Ray) Bonilla (b. 1983), “Across the Street from Mom and Dad’s,” 2019, oil on panel, 12 x 24 in.

Today they regularly attend Indiana Heritage Arts, the juried sale of traditional and representational Indiana art held every June at the Brown County Art Gallery. In 2017 they learned about this event from their friends Libby and Dan Whipple (whose collection was profiled in Fine Art Connoisseur in 2021), and now they underwrite one of its cash awards.

Eventually, Ken and David started looking outside Indiana, mainly via the Internet, through which anyone can explore almost the entire art world. They are especially fond of Instagram, where they have noticed and met many artists, among them Juan Jr. Ramirez of Chicago and Rob Lange and Megan Aline of Charleston.

“Now when we look at their art, we think of their friendship, too,” David notes. He adds that, contrary to what some say, artists do appreciate collectors’ feedback. He recalls the time TJ Cunningham was painting a study of a barn; David and Ken suggested he add animals to convey movement, an adjustment that looked great and led them to buy it.

Today the couple acquire art from various sources including artists, galleries, fairs, and festivals. A current favorite is Indianapolis’s Vining Gallery, opened by artist Justin Vining, and in November 2021 David explored the lively scene in Santa Fe and particularly enjoyed Meyer Gallery. Most of us have a story about something we did just before the pandemic started; for David, it was his visit with friends to California’s LA Art Show, where they admired the stands of Arcadia Contemporary and Gallery 1261.

Among the Indiana artists represented in the collection are Mark Burkett, David Cunningham, Karen Graeser, Tim Greatbatch, Kathy Jo Houghton, Allen Hutton, Gabriel Lehman, Cheryl Anne Lorance, Jeanne McLeish, Kate Orr, Kyle Ragsdale, J. Rodney Reveal, Benny Sanders, Jerry Smith, Rita Spalding, Melinda Spear-Huff, Curt Stanfield, Stephanie Paige Thomson, Justin Vining, and Libby Whipple.

As for artists based elsewhere, they include Megan Aline, Chris Bell, Ray Bonilla, Richie Carter, Josh Clare, TJ Cunningham, Gareth Jones, David Kassan, Daniel Keys, Shawn Krueger, Kyle Ma, Stephen Mackey, Dean Mitchell, Josie Morway, Renato Muccillo, Grant Perry, Juan Jr. Ramirez, Tad Retz, Carlo Russo, Scott Ruthven, Brett Scheifflee, Sarah Sedwick, Phillip Singer, Caleb Stoltsfus, Adam Vinson, Steven S. Walker, Amy Werntz, Katie Whipple, and Kenneth Yarus.

David and Ken love all of their works, and though their eyes have “evolved in terms of quality,” they have not sold anything: “We bought those earlier works for a reason then and they are now part of our collecting history.” (A few items have been presented as gifts to relatives and friends.) As for so many collectors, their chief challenge is finding wall space and protecting those walls from direct sunlight. One closet, they admit, contains several paintings for which they don’t (yet) have enough room.

Pondering the state of realism today, David and Ken note that ever more artists are “finding beauty in everyday things — forms and shapes that are not conventionally beautiful.” Surely this is a sign of the field’s maturation, and we all look forward to seeing how the trend unfolds in the years ahead.


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