Talk of the Town - Oriental ornaments November 25 2004

Asian art reflects the passions of a Snellville homeowner

Bonnie Speed, director of the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, drew a map to help this lost Creative Loafing intern find her way home. The fact that her better-than-MapQuest rendering didn’t forget to include the Wal-Mart by Rockbridge Road or the local Publix reminds me why Speed and her home are a reflection of integrating art with everyday life: even her simple how-to-get-to-the-highway map is artistic in nature.

Nestled in Snellville, Speed’s home is a quasi-museum of eclectic art. In her dining room, a graphite drawing of a circle eerily reminiscent of The Ring looms over a table made of wood salvaged from old buildings and barns. Her living room boasts a late 19th-century screen that combines the bizarre images of a rat and the radish that makes wasabi.

Her collection is a culmination of 30-plus years of trading artwork with fellow art students, working with various artists, and bargaining with dealers from the era of snail mail. But hey, with e-mail and the wonders of eBay, collecting art has become that much easier.

Creative Loafing: What do you collect?

Speed: I collect Japanese scrolls, Chinese furniture, and early 20th-century modern furniture. I also collect contemporary art, and I try to support the artists wherever I am living.

How expensive is your collection? I would assume it gets pretty pricey.

Well, you buy what you can afford. When I first started purchasing, I was buying scrolls for $30 to $40. That’s what I could afford. Everything ranges from a couple hundred to a couple thousand.

Do you still make art?

No, I actually don’t. As time goes on, you get so busy, and now I do other things. I have a horse now. So, I guess I look at that as my art form these days. I board him at a very small stable that’s about 10 miles from here. I ride three to four times a week. That’s my art form as well as exercise.

What got you interested in Asian art?

When I moved from Maine to California to go to graduate school, I wanted to do an internship at the San Diego Museum of Art, and the only available position was interning in the Asian art department. I ended up absolutely loving it, and I wanted to get a degree in Asian art. For my graduate degree, I needed to be fairly fluent in the language. I got a scholarship to Taiwan and went there for a year so I could speak Mandarin.

This is a really broad question, but what do you think is the most rewarding aspect of collecting art? What is the purpose of art?

Oooh. The purpose of art! I think everyone collects and lives with art for different reasons. For me, it allows me to create an environment that feels like an extension of who I am. It allows me to live with things that I absolutely adore on different levels. I just love living with everything.