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Collecting:

Starting — and growing — your own art collection doesn't have to be intimidating.

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Levinson's background fuses artistic performance — she was an actress — and art-education college art classes. But she didn't start collecting art until the mid-1970s when she opened a branch of the Hand Workshop on Cary Street. "I was taking a course in pottery at the Hand Workshop, and they asked me to open a store," she says.

Her collection initially included only crafts, but now encompasses other media, such as paintings, drawings, pottery and photographs.

"I have an eclectic taste," she acknowledges. "My collection includes a lot of realism and some wonderful abstracts that just spoke to me. My only standard is that it has to be quality, no particular style."

Her varied personal collection is reflective of the collection she showcases at her gallery. "I have three folk art paintings from artists we represent but I'm not a folk art collector," she says.

At home, Levinson strategically places art throughout her house. For example, her kitchen houses funky pieces, including a mixed-media drawing by Victoria Bruner, "Chicken a la King." "It greets me every day," Levinson says.

Starting an art collection can be an intimidating endeavor, so Home Style asked Levinson for a few tips:

? Look for work by emerging artists. "It's great and usually offered at prices that are lower than many established artists," she says. "Find someone talented." Levinson has a painting by Eldridge Bagley, a folk artist from Virginia, which she purchased for $200 when he first started his career. It's now worth $3,500. "I fell in love with the subject matter and the quality," she says.

? Don't buy art as an investment. "Buy it because you love it," Levinson says. "If the value of your piece goes up, you can experience the joy of knowing your taste was good." With that said, Levinson suggests buying a hand-pulled etching, lithograph or silk screen or original photograph instead of buying a reproduction and framing it, because the hand-pulled piece does have value — the other is simply a decorative item.

? Browse through different museums, juried art shows and galleries. "Get a sense of what you can and can't afford," she says. "You'll also be able to judge better what you like."

? Don't buy art to match the décor of a room. "That shouldn't be the goal even though you want it to fit in."

? Don't be concerned about mixing media. "Some people like to collect black-and-white artwork, while others like to collect the work of a particular artist, and that's a valid way to go," Levinson says. "Others get titillated by new things and buy a variety of styles. Either is OK. It's whatever grabs you."

? Deal with a gallery you trust. "If you deal with a gallery you have confidence in, that has a lot of integrity, then you can swing with your own taste with the security of knowing you are in honest hands," Levinson says.

Don't be timid. "If you see something you really like, go for it," she says. "You can have it forever. If I waited for extra money to buy my paintings, my walls would be

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