Art Consultant Curates Temporary Gallery in Cookie Man's House

Michelle Bello has added some contemporary touches to the walls of 55 Sea View while the traditional mansion is on the market.

When Realtor Debbi DiMaggio of got the listing to sell Otis Spunkmeyer founder Kenneth Rawlings' house, she knew she wanted her friend Michelle Bello to freshen up the stately 80-year-old Tudor with a selection of contemporary art to help give the property a broader appeal. Bello responded to DiMaggio's invitation with a resounding "yes". She had seven works by noted Bay Area artists installed around the 9,336-square-foot mansion, creating a sort of pop up gallery while the house is on the market.

Is this what you usually do as an art consultant, dress up homes for sale with art?

It's rare. I'm usually a private consultant. I help clients purchase and acquire art for their own collections. ... I did it only for Debbi, and because it was this place. ...

When I first moved from San Francisco to Piedmont, this house was one of my all-time favorite houses. I used to drive by... and later I found out it was the Albert Farr mansion. ...

Living here in Piedmont we all know about this house. ... I'd wanted to see the inside. For some reason I'd just never been here, I'm probably the only one in Piedmont that hasn't, so it's exciting to me.

You've said that botanicals, hunting prints, and landscapes in gold frames are typical of artwork hung in homes like this one. Even here, Mr. Rawlings insisted on leaving up some plates from a book of musical instruments and a bay landscape painting on the lower level.

What did you have in mind in choosing art for the home?

I ... wanted to get things that maybe a young family could come and actually purchase ... and things that I don't think people have seen in Piedmont. ...

I've been in this community for 14 years now and ... I think that there's a whole new group of younger families moving in here ...  who really know art. ... They're not just putting up grandma's inherited pieces, they're buying their own work.

I think the taste is changing. ... I think Piedmont is changing. ... I'm a perfect example; I came from San Francisco, and there's so many people coming from outside the community now.

Squeak Carnwath's Jacquard Tapestry, which you hung by the stairwell, is a play on the traditional approach to decorating homes like this with art.

In most of these ... elegant old homes... they always put up a tapestry... There was at one time a tapestry in the living room [at 55 Sea View] ... but this is a tapestry by a contemporary artist ... that was milled and woven in Belgium, and yet if you really look closely, it's really tongue-in-cheek. ... I thought this was just refreshing.

Aondrea Maynard's abstract landscape you put up outside the office is also a new take on the old style.

Yes. ... She does old master style, but in a contemporary way... This [artwork] is actually a dreamier landscape.

What was on the walls in the foyer before you put up this pair of works on paper by Gustavo Ramos Rivera?

Mirrors. There were mirrors and they were elegant ... but I just thought [I'd] bring a little more excitement. ...

These are... almost abstract expressionist, heightened color. ... I think they go beautifully against the [raised] panelling—some squares ... mixed with the biomorphic shapes.

What were you considering in choosing to hang Judith Foosaner's "A Kind of Blue" in the living room?

This room ... is just glorious, with nothing in it. ... We look out at this spectacular view, ... you see the water. ... We wanted something ... where the house showed off in this particular case, and the art.

This piece ... has a watery feel to it. ... It doesn't compete with the water, but relates to it ... and the scale is absolutely dead on.

As an art consultant, I always trying to bring in several ideas. ... It is only when you get into the space that you see what truly works. ... I did bring in a lot of pieces, probably five times as much as we ended up with.

When you're putting together a collection like this do you feel like you are yourself creating an artwork?

I do. I get emotionally invested in every project I do, maybe it's a curse. ...

For me ... being a consultant, that is my art. Basically curating, and drawing from parts, to create a whole ... I'm just using the art as paint, or collage... being a curator is really where I get my creative juices flowing.

How did you get into this profession?

I've always loved art, always done art... but I'm not good at it. ...

When I was growing up ... you just didn't go into the arts, you had to look into a profession you could actually make a living at, and so I went into journalism and communications. ...

I was a writer for a magazine, ended up having a column for the Sacramento Bee. ... A lot of my stories ended up being about art. ...

Finally... I moved to San Francisco. ... I had opportunity to be in a ... major San Francisco gallery ... and I never looked back. ... I was in heaven. ... I said, this is what I was meant to do. ...

At that time, it was in the '80s, a new profession had actually started called 'art consulting'. ... A lot of the corporations were buying art, and very wealthy people basically did not have the time to ... do the research and the development to put together their art collections, and that's where the art consultant was born.

As a director of a gallery, I sold to art consultants. ... [When] I decided to have a child and moved to Piedmont ... being in a gallery—it's a little bit 24-7, you're there on weekends, night time parties—I decided I wanted to be a little bit home with my kid, you know.


I found that I really loved [being an art consultant], because usually when you work for a gallery, you have maybe 15 to 25 artists in ... your group of artists, and now I can pick from thousands, all over the community, all over the state, all over New York, and now internationally. And I love that freedom.

What do you like most about living in Piedmont?

The people. ... There are some of the most fabulous parents, they look out for each other, and there are a lot of exciting personalities here—people think, oh, it's just a quiet little suburb and I think they're often surprised...

I run at 100 miles an hour, and I like the fact that I can be in Piedmont and know people, feel connected, feel my kid has place. ...

I just love the people, that's the main thing.

kathy claussen November 12, 2010 at 02:20 AM
Great Job Michelle.....the art looks amazing!!!!
aline mayer November 12, 2010 at 09:04 PM
what fascinating choices--I only wish we could all see the mix of contemporary art with the historical mansion!
Amy Jeffries November 13, 2010 at 12:08 AM
I will have to bug Debbi DiMaggio about posting the details here the next time she holds an open house at 55 Sea View.


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