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Best Stuff

Art-collecting couple Andy and Ginny Lewis holds a major sale.



Andy and Ginny Lewis never thought of themselves as collectors.

But now that they're downsizing from a large house on 5 acres to a city penthouse, they no longer have room for the world class collection of contemporary crafts they've been acquiring since 1975.

Andy Lewis was president of Best Products Corp. in the '70s, '80s and '90s and his parents, Frances and the late Sydney Lewis, donated their collection of art nouveau, art deco and 20th century art to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1985, so collecting came naturally.

Now the couple is finding that letting go is more challenging as they prepare to say goodbye to much of that collection during a four-day sale being managed by Phoenix Estate Sales. The company warned them not to edit, preferring that they leave everything they didn't want in the house and they'd deal with it.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Visual Arts Center, a particularly appropriate beneficiary given Ginny's deep ties to it, where she served on the board for years and was named volunteer of the year. But also a number of the objects originated at the Visual Arts Center or its predecessor, the Hand Workshop.

'"It's difficult to send your stuff out into the world," Andy says. "Everyone who downsizes feels that way. There are some beautiful things and we hope they end up with good homes where people love and care for them."

A good part of the Lewis' collection is from the '70s, '80s and '90s and came out of the California studio crafts movement, which resulted from the postwar boom as Americans moving to the newly developed suburbs sought to personalize their homes.

'"We met a lot of those artists and we had a big house then, so if we liked something, we didn't have to think about whether we had room for it," Andy recalls. "This is all complicated by the fact that many of the artists are friends, so we had an emotional attachment to the stuff."'

Locally, they acquired works by Clifford Earl, Jude Schlotzhauer and the late Mary Lou Deale, among others. Their collection included a dozen pieces by Frank Heller, whom they discovered at a gallery in New York before he moved to Richmond and taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, and winnowed that by half for the sale.

Most of the pieces in the sale are sculptural objects such as ceramics, glass and clay, but fiber art such as wall hangings and quilts, furniture and household items are also included. One unexpected benefit of cleaning out the house's attic was rediscovering things they hadn't seen in a quarter of a century. "Now we're using some of those things here," Ginny says. "But we didn't miss them for 25 years."

Talking about how people's tastes have changed, she cites three boxes of silver items, many belonging to her husband's parents and grandparents that will be part of the sale, including a punch bowl shaped like a champagne glass.

It isn't only the punch bowl that makes this estate sale exceptional. A representative of Phoenix Estate Sales told them theirs was the first sale in five years that didn't include a Chippendale sofa. "They're thrilled everything is so contemporary. Our stuff doesn't look like old people stuff," Ginny says with a laugh.

What isn't sold at the four-day sale will be auctioned online, donated or discarded.

"Our life has been one tent short of a circus," Ginny says. "But it's all good." S

The Lewis sale is held Oct. 18 through 21 each day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 16 Dahlgren Road

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