Longtime art collector turns home into gallery
A Seattle man who's amassed an impressive private collection of contemporary art opened his apartment Saturday to his new neighbors in the South Lake Union neighborhood.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Robert Dootson doesn't mind showing off his art, amassed in 30 years as a collector. But he doesn't like to talk about it.
"I just don't know how to put into words why I like them," he said. "In my mind, I know why I like them."
Dootson's 1,345-square-foot apartment is packed with contemporary art, professionally curated and displayed under lights. The walls are covered with paintings by David Hockney, Therese Oulton, Al Held, Philip Guston and dozens of others. The coffee table holds a giant Dale Chihuly piece, and shelves are filled with Asian pottery and small statues.
Dootson, 84, worked in investments before he retired. He began collecting art in the late 1960s. He traveled to galleries and artists' studios, read, and became involved with the Seattle Art Museum, where he's been a longtime trustee.
Soon, his home in Bellevue was filled with art on display. He and his late wife, Honey, hosted parties for famous artists and traveled around the world with SAM groups seeking art for the museum collection.
The art was nothing but a hobby for him. His pieces are not investments, he says, and he doesn't know too much about many of them, though he's met most of the artists.
"I do it by instinct," he said. "I don't have rules or regulations. I immediately see something, then I like it. ... It's my first impression that matters."
His daughter Ele Dootson said collecting art is truly her father's passion, and he does it because he loves the work.
"It's not about history, it's not about all that knowledge," she said. "It's all about the aesthetics."
Ele Dootson remembers renowned pop artist Claes Oldenburg picking up some crayons and a stray notepad at her parents' house and sketching a faucet.
The sketch — of a giant faucet emptying into Lake Union — became a poster for a 1972 festival, and a painted version of it resides at the Orlando Museum of Art. Oldenburg was charmed the 13-year-old Ele had stayed to watch him work, so when he finished, he drew a small sketch of a heart, and wrote "lover of art." She still has the unsigned sketch.
"Of course, as a teenager that was pretty fascinating to have these big people come to our house," Ele Dootson said, "and I don't think at the time I realized how unusual it was."
Robert Dootson pared down his collection by two-thirds when he moved out of his large house on the Eastside into a First Hill apartment. Much of the art went to the museum; some went to his two daughters. When he started looking for an assisted-living apartment, he looked for one with "lots of walls."
His new apartment at Mirabella, in South Lake Union, is half the size of his former home, but he fit it all in. He hosted a small art show Saturday for residents and potential residents. He sat in his living room while perhaps 70 people wandered through, marveling at how much artwork he has fit into the space. Dootson stores nothing. Much of his art is promised to Seattle Art Museum when he dies.
"I bet there's a story about every one of these pieces, isn't there?" one woman asked Dootson as she studies shelves of Asian pottery.
Dootson didn't want to talk about it. "Not really," he said.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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