Arthur Jay Edelman met his beloved wife of 66 years, Theodora, while studying at Sarah Lawrence College through the G I Bill. Shortly after graduation, the couple joined Teddy’s family leather tanning business. Here they met Andy Warhol, when he was a talented, young graphic designer working for the company, who would become a lifelong friend. Titans in the field of interior design, the Edelmans cultivated their passions for art and design with a unique collection of important Tiffany Studios lamps, Old Master paintings and Andy Warhol artworks showcased at their family residence at Alligator Farm, in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Ahead of Sotheby's upcoming Important Design auction (24 May, New York), John Edelman, the couple’s sixth child, sat down with Sotheby’s to discuss his parents’ collecting legacy.
How would you describe your parents' philosophy on collecting art and objects?
My parents' philosophy about collecting art and objects was simple: they always bought what they loved, whether it was Old Master paintings, Mexican art or works by their friend Andy Warhol. It was never about buying as an investment – it was always about gaining a deeper knowledge about something that interested them and acquiring pieces that would bring them joy for many years to come. The most important aspect of their collecting approach was that they did everything together. They really had a shared aesthetic, which is extremely rare.
It was the hunt and the thrill of discovery that drove them to collect.
Eclecticism seems to be a central tenant of your parents' collecting and how they lived with art and object. Was integrating the art, design and the more classic decorative arts the original intent or did this naturally occur over the course of their collecting?
My parents were the definition of eclecticism. They were married for so many years and they went through so many different stages of life together – living in the vibrant West Village in the '50s and '60s and later settling in rural Connecticut in the late '60s, '70s and '80s until their passing. They were inspired by everything, from their travels through Baja, Mexico, to Paris, to Italy, to St. Louis and more. Wherever they were, they would take time out to explore local galleries and antique stores in the pursuit of something interesting and special. They were often moved by the simplest things – it didn’t matter what they were or what was their value; it was the hunt and the thrill of discovery that drove them to collect. They were passionate and adventurous, and they intuitively knew how to mix things. Only they could have created the incredibly rich and diverse interior they put together for their home.
The dramatic architectural design of Alligator Farm is highly unique and bespoke. Did this unique space and environment inform their collecting or was the residence designed expressly around the collection?
The design concept for Alligator Farm was inspired by my parents' discovery of two barns four miles away. They decided to reconstruct the barns on their property, but put the exterior wood from the original barns on the interior. It ended up becoming the most amazing showplace for great works of art, decorated with floss lighting, oriental rugs and hand-tufted European furniture. It was the canvas upon which they built their collection organically over time. Nothing was ever really pre-planned, but the natural evolution created this unique environment that will never be replicated.
Wherever they were in the house, they wanted a Tiffany lamp to be within sight.
Tiffany lighting and objects were clearly central to your parents' collecting. What do you believe drew them to Tiffany?
There was always something special about Tiffany lamps that my parents admired. They loved the way the colors fit in the house as well as the lamps' sculptural presence and the architecture of the bases. Wherever they were in the house, they wanted a Tiffany lamp to be within sight. my parents had luck finding Tiffany pieces while in St Louis, where they would browse antique stores between selling leather or waiting for leather samples to come in. I know on one occasion my father went to St Louis for a very important meeting with an angry client, and when the salesman picked him from the airport, my father said they needed to stop by an antique store before the meeting. They ended up being two hours late for the meeting, but he got his Wisteria lamp.
Tell us about your parents' relationship and history with Andy Warhol. How did they meet and come to work together?
My parents met Andy Warhol pre-Pop. They were introduced by a magazine editor and, even though he was very quiet, my father liked Andy right away and brought him to meet my mother. The relationship evolved from there: my parents would share their vision, and Andy would come back the next day with work. They had a great relationship that lasted many years.
Don’t chase investment – chase passion. Collecting should be like falling in love
What is the history behind the whimsical painted ceiling lights by Andy?
When my parents worked with Andy, they had him paint everything from the awning of their St Louis show room (which is now in the collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh) to the showroom lights. He was an artist that wanted to paint everything possible, and these plain lamp shades seemed to beg for some kind of decoration. When they were done, they fit beautifully inside the showroom.
What would your parents want to share with the next generation of collectors based on their own collecting legacy? What advice would they pass on?
I think that my parents’ inherent inquisitiveness drove their collecting and kept them interested, vibrant and alive. They felt collecting was about learning, and young collectors should be guided by the same principle. Their advice would be simple: collect things that you love. Collect things that you care about. Don’t chase investment – chase passion. Collecting should be like falling in love.