The Secret World of the Menil’s Montrose Bungalows: These Aren’t Just Cute Cottages

BY CATHERINE D. ANSPON, PHOTOGRAPHY CASEY DUNN 08.03.15

So proud to see our own Bob Russell featured in this insightful and inspiring profile on his home in this months PaperCity Magazine.  Below is the feature on Bob's home written by Catherine D. Anspon, with beautiful photographs by Casey Dunn. To view the full article, please click here

Artist Bob Russell contemplates his next step after a banner year.

Artist Bob Russell contemplates his next step after a banner year.

The Russell's airy living room with mid-century furniture culled from auctions, yard sales and antiquing.

The Russell's airy living room with mid-century furniture culled from auctions, yard sales and antiquing.

Judy Russell relaxes in their breakfast room at a sturdy antique oak pedestal table, from her family's home in Bellaire.

Judy Russell relaxes in their breakfast room at a sturdy antique oak pedestal table, from her family's home in Bellaire.

For the second in our series of lives inside the illusive Menil-gray bungalows that surround The Menil Collection, we venture into two of the cottages — the homes of artist Amber Eagle and her artisan husband, Guillermo Rosas, and artist Bob Russell and his wife, mid-century design maven Judy Russell. Discover the bliss of living small and purposefully, shaded by history and across the street from one of the world’s most storied private museums.

CHEZ JUDY AND BOB RUSSELL
The Russells have rented the charming circa-1930s Branard Street bungalow in the de Menil enclave since 2012. (They were recently joined by her mom, nonagenarian baker and ace bridge player Kathleen Sturm.) The couple met during their undergraduate days — Judy remembers Bob walking her to her car at the University of Houston, “and that was it.” They have been married 44 years, with a grown son and daughter and their first grandchild on the way. The Russells have feathered their diminutive nest with his artworks; a shared collection of paintings, works on paper and sculpture; enticing rocks and mineral specimens; and well-edited furniture and design finds that tilt to the Mad Men era — evidence of Judy’s seven-year tenure at Sunset Settings. (She now works for UT School of Nursing at the Texas Medical Center.)

But what occurs outside the bungalow is even more important. “I can walk out my front door and almost touch four different world-class art pavilions,” says Bob. “I love the energy of the neighborhood.” We first made Bob’s acquaintance during visits to Gremillion & Co., where this one-time rock ’n’ roll musician who studied architecture in college has long worked as a gallerist. I had known Bob for years when one day he invited me to visit the home where he and Judy were living at the time, in another Menil-owned property. The startlingly beautiful work on view presaged his current well-received career as an artist. (Recent exhibitions include a one-person show at the Jung Center, his solo this spring at Colquitt dealer D.M. Allison Gallery and inclusion in the edgy “Wet” group show curated by Donna Tennant and Henry Hunt at the Williams Tower Gallery.)

What’s compelling about Russell’s work is its feeling of being created in a bygone era — one surmises living in the bungalow reinforces this sensitivity. His collages are remarkable, but in a nuanced way: Combining paper, torn bits of canvas and pencil markings, these understated works possess a nocturnal air informed by cubism and precise geometry. There’s always an open-porch policy at bungalow Russell: The couple entertains in the best way possibly, informally and organically. Bloody Mary Sundays, dropins by neighbors (including our next profile, Amber Eagle), relatives and a small stream of other fascinating visitors as well as a friendly neighborhood-fed non-feral cat make for a sense of community, all within this leafy allée footsteps from the Twombly Gallery, across from the Menil. “After living near Rice University, in Austin and a Houston downtown loft and having wonderful memories of them all, this home has been the best,” Judy says.

Joan Steinman featured on the cover of My Table April/May 2015 Issue

Congratulations to our artist Joan Steinman for her featured cover on My Table: Houston's Dining Magazine. A big thank you to My Table for including this bio on Joan inside the front cover:

Born in Beaumont Texas, artist Joan Steinman has been painting in Houston for nearly 30 years. “My work has always been influenced by the light and color of my environment. Simple ordinary objects become extraordinary and part of a larger array of color and complex patterns that transform familiar shapes around me into visual energy.” See more of Joan Steinman’s work at Gremillion & Co. Fine Art (2501 Sunset Blvd.) or at www.joansteinman.com.

Steven Alexander awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant for 2015

We are pleased to announce that Steven Alexander has been awarded a Pollock-Krasner Grant for 2015. This grant supports the artists' personal and/or professional expenses for one year. Since its inception in 1985, the Foundation has awarded over 61 million dollars to artists in 76 countries. Congratulations to Steven on this award, which comes just before the opening of his exhibtion here with us at Gremillion & Co. Fine Art, Inc. next Thursday, April 9th.  

Pollock-Krasner grants have enabled artists to create new work, purchase needed materials and pay for studio rent, as well as their personal and medical expenses. Past recipients of Pollock-Krasner grants acknowledge their critical impact in allowing concentrated time for studio work, and in preparing for exhibitions and other professional opportunities such as accepting a residency. 

The Pollock-Krasner Foundation was established in 1985 to assist individual working artists of merit with financial need through the generosity of Lee Krasner (1908-1984), a leading abstract expressionist painter and widow of Jackson Pollock. 

All images were taken by Steven Alexander at his home and studio in Dalton, Pennsylvania.

 

Art + Talk Lecture Series with Gallery Director Chris Skidmoore

Our gallery director, Chris Skidmore, was recently invited to share his insights on art collecting at a panel discussion hosted by Contempo Designs. Chris spoke alongside art advisor and friend Harriet Alexander and Aliyya Stude of Sotheby's. Members of the design community came together to hear the panel discussion on how influential and important art is to interior design. Below are Chris' thoughts on why "Art Matters."

Art Matters

Today I would like to visit the notion that art matters, that art and design are related at the deepest level. When you walk into any space or flip through most any design magazine, very often the first thing that is apparent is the art, or lack thereof. 

In thinking about this notion, I couldn’t help but wonder how the conversation went in Lascaux 17,000 years ago. “Honey let’s re-decorate the cave, perhaps we should move that rock over there and this rock over here… And what do think about some art? Maybe a landscape with a Wooly Mammoth.” The two have been linked ever since.

My experience over the last 28 years with both the residential and commercial design process typically goes something like this. First, all functional needs are met first – table, couch, bed, drawers, followed by mirrors, light fixtures, curtains and plants. Then, there is the ‘a-ha’ moment when the remaining empty spaces reveal themselves and art comes up (oops I think we forgot art lighting). Hmmm, art might have to wait because we are 50% over budget, let’s come back to that later…. Do you have any really inexpensive art? I think I have some from college.

The solution is simple: plan from the beginning.  I believe it is a great responsibility of the design professional to shepherd the client through all aspects of the process. Art will elevate or diminish any design. 

This doesn’t mean you have to go pick all their art. It does mean that as you develop the design and assess the needs of the client, the discussion of art starts at the beginning; it is important to have good lighting, it matters where the light switches go and the best place for the thermostat probably isn’t in the middle of a huge wall at eye level. 

I have a few ideas about why my so-called ‘typical scenario’ occurs. 
1.    The design professional might not be comfortable dealing with art. It may be thought of as too personal, or too daunting
2.    The client might indicate that they don’t want help with art or they don’t want to deal with it
3.    Maybe it seems too expensive
4.    It might be easier just to not bring it up
5.    A designer might not feel comfortable introducing the client to someone they don’t have control over
6.    The client doesn’t want to pay for the service and “will handle it on their own”
7.    Will the purchase of artwork take a way from my design budget?
8.    Commissions! I don’t like commissions! I just want what comes from the soul of the artist.  That’s fine except that most of the world’s greatest art came from commissions. I can only imagine how many detailed instructions were given to Michelangelo for the Sistine Chapel,  “More Blue! And, uh… would you mind putting it on the ceiling?” 

All of these are very reasonable concerns and I do not discount them. However, I believe that it is your responsibility to overcome these objections.  It is sales. It is the same sales as when you suggest a slightly more expensive fabric because you know it is the right one or that refinishing the perfectly acceptable kitchen cabinets will change the look of the entire house.  It needs to be built into your repertoire from the get-go. 

If the client is engaged in the art discussion from the beginning, they will either be excited willing participants or more often than not, they will come around during the process. In the end it may be the proverbial “icing on the cake”. 

So, how do I do this?

Many of you already do. If so, do you include it in the conversation from the beginning? If you don’t, add it.  Your clients will appreciate it, it will make your project more successful and you will gain some knowledge, which will come in handy time after time.

I often make the analogy between art and wine or art and music. We are not born with this knowledge. Around the age of eighteen or twenty-one a friend might have come to you and said, “Have you ever tried wine? I just got this amazing Gallo jug wine, you have to try it!” 

“This is great” I say, “I love wine!” Fifteen years later, after I have tried many wines and developed a taste and understanding of wine, I might run into an offering of Gallo jug wine and my inclination will be to look at my watch and exclaim, “Look at the time, I must leave immediately.”  The wine I loved on day one tastes exactly as it did fifteen years ago. My pallet has changed not the wine. The exact same thing happens with our ability to see. It is not until we get out there and begin looking that we begin appreciate what is right in front of us… or not.

Another very important notion is that there is good and bad art. Beauty is not necessarily in the eye of the beholder. We learn to see. Good art functions, it feeds the viewer whether they are expecting it or not. It functions today, in six months and in 6 years. If you have ever been in a museum and been moved by a piece or maybe seen someone tearing up in front of a work, that is what I am talking about.

There are incredible resources in Houston. Three of them are here today. Houston is one of the largest art communities in the country and you will find that most people in the industry are excited to share their knowledge.

As projects arise, get out and develop relationships.  You will know pretty quickly how a vendor will treat you and your client. 

For those clients not interested in your help with art.  Find out why. If it is money, suggest they develop a budget for art over time. Maybe plan to add one piece a year. If it is a resistance to the design fee, make some suggestions for them to come see me or another gallery you like, or reach out to a consultant.  You don’t have to spend lots of time on it, but you will have a big influence on what they do and how the project ultimately looks.

You will most likely be responsible for the art whether you were involved or not. If you have good relationships with good people, you will be protected both financially and aesthetically. If they are already art connoisseurs, great!

Take advantage of the resources out there.

If art hasn’t been a big part of what you are doing, add it.

Art matters!

Eric Peters featured in Architectural Digest

The work of our German based artist Eric Peters looks stunning in our clients home featured in the August 2014 issue of Architectural Digest. Famed interior designer Miles Redd artfully decorated the vibrant Houston home, and we are thrilled at how perfect Eric's piece looks in their "taxi cab yellow" entry way. See the full article here

John Pavlicek featured in the December 2014 Houston Modern Luxury

We are thrilled to see John Pavlicek's upcoming exhibition on the Houston Magazine Calender, alongside one of his beautiful pieces.  Please join us for his opening reception on Thursday evening from 6 - 8 pm.