Bram and Sandra Dijkstra are just five minutes into their interview and they’re already talking to each other in a way only a couple who’ve been married for almost 60 years can. For most people, a question like “how did you start collecting art?” isn’t a particularly loaded question, but for the Dijkstras, well, it’s a long story.
“It’s just something that came relatively naturally to us,” Bram says.
Sandra disagrees. Good kind of.
“I was definitely never programmed to do that,” she says. “My mom was a New Yorker, extremely practical and pragmatic, and she would probably be so upset by what we did. I was not brought up to collect art. No way, Jose.
For the Dijkstras, who have lived in the San Diego area for more than 50 years, collecting art has been a lifelong passion, bordering on obsession. They acknowledge that nearly every inch of wall space in their Julian and Del Mar homes, as well as Sandra’s literary agency office, is covered in paintings, drawings, and prints. Even the bathrooms are covered in art.
“It’s a small museum,” jokes Sandra. “In the bathroom, we left room for a toilet and sink.”
With this, the couple both crack in a way that only two people who are already in on the joke would.
A portion of the Dijkstras’ art collection, although a fraction of what they have collected over the years, is currently on display at “Collecting San Diego: Selections from the Dijkstra Fine Art Collection”, the premiere of a series of exhibits focused on local collectors at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park. The recently launched initiative aims to showcase the collections of local art lovers in hopes of shedding light on San Diego’s history, as well as exhibiting regional artists who have lived and worked in the area.
“I think this show also shows how the Dijkstras championed our early art scene in San Diego, but how they have continued to do so,” says Claudia Leos-Banega, a local art historian who has known Bram for years. 90 and helped organize the “Collecting San Diego” exhibit.
“They continued to support and champion local artists. They bought work based on what touched them, not who was a hot name. They bought works by women, Chicano artists, their range is varied. It’s so nice to see this continuum.
The Dijkstras have always had a passion for art, but both agree that they really started collecting seriously after Sandra’s mother died and left them some money. While the couple first thought about investing in stocks — or what Sandra calls “very logical” things — Bram suggested they consider buying art. The two started going to estate art sales and local shows, and the rest, as they say, was history. Their collection now spans centuries and varies in style, medium, practice and every other distinction imaginable.
“Most people invest in something one way or another, and that makes sense, but for us, we realized that the type of investments like the stock market were very risky and we had to move on. our lives to follow him,” says Braam. “We always had the rule that we had to love art in terms of what it did, what it said. It had to be something that speaks to us,”
“We just kept buying more,” adds Sandra. “Even when we say ‘enough, enough, already enough.'”
The works exhibited at the Dijkstra exhibition are very varied, ranging from landscapes and woodcuts to still lifes and surrealism. The number of regional and local artists on display is immediately apparent, with big names such as William Newport Goodell (“Boots in Barracks”), Harry Sternberg (“Hair #9 [Hippies and Bikers in the Borrego Desert]”) and James Hubbell (“Rising Clouds”) all on display. Local female artists, often unfairly overshadowed by their male contemporaries, are also on display and include Belle Baranceanu (“The Dancers”), Carol Lindemulder (“Imperial Valley Housing”) and Ethel Greene (“Sitting in the Shade, Lying in the Sun and selections from his “Egg of an Unknown Bird” series).
When asked if they have any particular favorites from the collection, Bram doesn’t hesitate.
“That’s the simplest, most honest answer I can give you, but I don’t have any favorites,” he says. “I love each of these works for their own reasons and mine.”
For Leos-Banega, she says she could have easily curated a more thematic exhibition, but ultimately opted for a more holistic approach. She says she was very surprised that the Dijkstras’ collection is not limited to regional or even Californian artists, but also includes European and 19th century works. She worked closely with the couple to help choose the pieces for display, with the Dijkstras having the final say on what they were willing to part with.
“Sometimes they would say, ‘we just don’t want that hole in our wall,'” Leos-Banega says with a laugh.
What Leos-Banega and the Dijkstras wholeheartedly agree on is that they hope their “Collecting San Diego” exhibit, and the series as a whole, will inspire others to start collecting. The couple began donating many works from their collection to local institutions such as the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Timken Museum. And while it’s hard to conceive of a scenario where a potential collector would amass such a large and extensive collection as the Dijkstras, all parties agree that the magic begins with that first purchase.
“I don’t know what hole needs to be filled to get this message out to people, but I know people who are doing well economically, but they don’t put original artwork in their homes, and I think that they would if they knew they could get nice things for a few hundred dollars or a few thousand if they had it,” says Leos-Banega.
“So many people think that art, quotes, is beyond their reach,” Bram says. “The reproductions have none of the textures or colors or the angst you feel in the artist’s original work. That’s what really speaks to you. There is not this dialogue that exists between an original work of art and yourself.
“For people who come to the show and are inspired to collect locally, I would say one of the real joys is getting to know the artists,” adds Sandra. “By visiting their studios, you not only support their art, but you learn about San Diego’s art history. You help them create that story.
“Collecting San Diego: Selections from the Dijkstra Fine Art Collection”
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday. The exhibition lasts until the end of the year.
Or: San Diego History Center, 1649 El Prado, Suite #3, Balboa Park
Admission: To free
Call: (619) 232-3720
In line: sandiegohistory.org
Combs is a freelance writer.