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My Art Collection: Jeremy Efroymson 

'My Art Collection' is a monthly Sky Blue Window feature that explores works on the walls and shelves of art enthusiasts across the metropolitan area. Collections -– big, small, expensive and inexpensive –- are included, but they all have one thing in common: art-world inspiration.

Standing in his home’s “art room,” where he keeps treasured works not on display, Efroymson holds up a portrait of his grandfather, Robert. It sits among pieces in his eclectic collection by artists including Indianapolis’ Mab Graves, Kurt Vonnegut, Yoko Ono and Thomas Hart Benton. - LARRY LADIG
  • Larry Ladig
  • Standing in his home’s “art room,” where he keeps treasured works not on display, Efroymson holds up a portrait of his grandfather, Robert. It sits among pieces in his eclectic collection by artists including Indianapolis’ Mab Graves, Kurt Vonnegut, Yoko Ono and Thomas Hart Benton.

There's something about seeing Florida's landscapes reproduced cheaply in vivid greens, blues and yellows and knowing they were painted by 26 self-taught African-American artists that makes Jeremy Efroymson buy art.

A string of pieces created between the 1950s and 1980s by artists known as the "Florida Highwaymen" are just a few of the jewels of Efroymson's 200-piece collection. But he won't say the works, painted in garages and backyards and sold for around $25 along highways, are his favorites -- just that they're pieces he thinks about a lot.

Efroymson, an Indiana philanthropist who seeds a number of creative endeavors, saw his first "Highwaymen" painting several years ago in an antiques shop while vacationing in Sarasota, Florida. He couldn't understand why it cost so much, about $2,000, because it looked, well, a bit like something you might find hanging in a motel lobby.

But for some reason he couldn't get it out of his head.

click to enlarge Through philanthropic support and volunteerism, Jeremy Efroymson has been a supporter of many central Indiana arts institutions including Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, the Harrison Center for the Arts and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. - LARRY LADIG
  • Larry Ladig
  • Through philanthropic support and volunteerism, Jeremy Efroymson has been a supporter of many central Indiana arts institutions including Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, the Harrison Center for the Arts and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

So, when Efroymson returned to Indianapolis and researched the story of "The Highwaymen," he started buying paintings online. So far, he has collected about 30, tucking them away in a closet and art room in his Indianapolis home. He says he hasn't yet found the right spot to hang them.

They might be out of site, but they're never far from his thoughts. The stories behind these works, by men who struggled and sold their work cheaply, intrigue Efroymson.

"You can learn something from everyone," he says. "I don't think it's an accident there are so many movies where it's the homeless guy or that last person you would expect that relays a piece of knowledge to someone who can change the direction of their lives. So, I'm always poking under every corner."

Such poking took Efroymson to places where he found other favorites of his collection: works by outsider artist Michael Rafferty. Two small red chairs, painted by Rafferty, sit on a shelf in his art room. An inscription on one reads "Today is Tuesday." The other reads, "Tomorrow is Wednesday."

Efroymson found the chairs and several of Rafferty's other pieces, including a small, black and white painting that says "dream," while visiting St. Petersburg, Florida's Creative Clay, which provides artistic opportunities to people with disabilities.

"He is just great. Sometimes you run across these people who really capture something," says Efroymson, adding that he'd like to sponsor a show for the man although he has been unable to make contact with the right people.

While he has collected a string of Rafferty's works, Efroymson hasn't displayed them. They, too, are carefully tucked away.

There is plenty of art in plain sight, though.

Hanging in his home's living space are contemporary pieces that investment collectors would be interested in. They, too, are mixed with works by lesser-known artists.

On one wall is a numbered print (55 of 60) by Richard Serra, best known for his sculptures and whose works are in the collections of New York City's Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. Opposite, below a contemporary interpretation of a sunny sky in Baja, Calif., is a doll-sized statue of the Frisch's Big Boy Restaurant mascot, proudly hoisting a plastic hamburger into the air. That was picked up at Frisch's for a few dollars.

"I call myself a fringe dweller, in general, so I never fit into any group. So maybe my art collection doesn't fit into any group either," says Efroymson.

He makes a good point, especially considering that his collection also includes pieces from art-world celebrities Yoko Ono, David Byrne (of the Talking Heads), Thomas Hart Benton and one of Indianapolis' favorite sons: Kurt Vonnegut, whose print hangs in Efroymson's bedroom.

Vonnegut's works have special meaning, he says, because the writer was a friend of his late great-uncle, Clarence.

"I bought two suites [groupings] of his back when they had a show at the Indianapolis Art Center a long time ago," he says.

Also on the wall, amid all of Efroymson's paintings and prints, hangs an architectural drawing. The piece is an illustration for New Harmony's celebrated Athenaeum by Richard Meier, designer of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and the Getty Center. The structure, opened in 1979, serves as the community's visitors' center. Efroymson likes it so much that he bought two prints of the plans -- one to hang and one for safekeeping.

Jeremy Efroymson owns multiple paintings, including this one, by a group of African-American artists known as the "Florida Highwaymen." He likes the story behind the paintings, created from the 1950s to the 1980s by self-taught artists in Florida and sold along highways, as much as he likes the pieces. - LARRY LADIG
  • Larry Ladig
  • Jeremy Efroymson owns multiple paintings, including this one, by a group of African-American artists known as the "Florida Highwaymen." He likes the story behind the paintings, created from the 1950s to the 1980s by self-taught artists in Florida and sold along highways, as much as he likes the pieces.

New Harmony, a historic town near Evansville, was once the location of a social experiment in creating a Utopian community, where people would behave kindly toward one another -- which is thought-provoking for Efroymson.

"New Harmony is one of my favorite places, so I spend a lot of time down there," he explains. "It's a really spiritual place."

To Efroymson, that makes it an ideal location for gathering additions to an art collection, because he picks his pieces more for interest than investment.

"I know some people buy for investment," he says. "I don't think there are a lot of people who are wealthy just because of their art collections."

So, when he collects artwork, Efroymson collects memories, too.

"The story of the art is more important than the actual piece," he says.

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About The Author

Cathy Kightlinger

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The first 20 years of Cathy Kightlinger’s career were spent as a newspaper reporter and columnist, so she is new to freelance writing. In her most recent role as The Indianapolis Star’s social columnist, Cathy wrote about fascinating people and parties, big and small. Fabulous shoes and contemporary art make her... more

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