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You don't need a lot of money, or a Monet, to create an art collection that pleases you

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/3/2012 (1987 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A work of art can please the eye, tease the brain, touch the heart and, as Picasso put it, "wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

What you hang on your walls and display on your shelves can not only affect your mood, it reflects your personality and offers clues as to who you really are. So it only makes sense that you'd want to devote some time and attention to how you adorn your living space.

Shawna Dempsey prepares a few pieces of artwork that will be part of the Over the Top! art auction.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNNIPEG FREE PRESS Shawna Dempsey prepares a few pieces of artwork that will be part of the Over the Top! art auction.

Building a personal art collection is one way to really make a house feel like a home -- a grown-up one, as opposed to, say, the pad you shared with a bunch of pals back in university and dressed up with posters, prints, flags and the like.

What's that? You say you don't have enough disposable income to begin or continue collecting art? And that you wouldn't know a Matisse from a Magritte?

Relax, you absolutely do not need a fat bank account or a degree in art history to be an art collector, says Shawna Dempsey, co-executive director of Mentoring Artists for Women's Art (MAWA) and former co-adjunct curator at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

"I think there's a perception that buying art is hard or that it's a specialized thing and you have to know what you're doing. It's not and you don't," says Dempsey, 48, a performance artist and an art collector herself.

She typically spends about one week's salary per year on art, which wasn't easy during the years she was supporting herself as a full-time artist. But Dempsey says there are enough art-buying options and opportunities in Winnipeg that with a little initiative and effort and some basic advice, a modest budget can go a long way toward a more artful life.

One of those opportunities is MAWA's annual Over the Top! art auction and cupcake party, which takes place this Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Art lovers will be able to bid on more than 100 works by established and emerging Canadian (mostly Manitoban) artists, including Diane Whitehouse, Takashi Iwasaki, Wanda Koop, Paul Robles, Diana Thorneycroft, Michael Dumontier, Sarah Anne Johnson and Aganetha Dyck, among others.

Bidding (it's a silent auction) on each work starts at $50. This year, the fundraising event will be open for preview and advance bids on Friday, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ainslie Schroeder, a 35-year-old Winnipeg lawyer and MAWA auction regular, says it's just one of the local art events that have helped her ease her way into art collecting over the past five or so years. She typically buys five or six pieces a year -- anything from little felted figurines and prints for under $60 to paintings -- and the top of her price range is around $500.

"There are a lot of opportunities that come up during the year to get a pretty good deal. The level of quality in this city is really exceptional for the price," says Schroeder, who went from art browser to buyer after she purchased her 100-year-old character home in Osborne Village. She also attends the annual Art from the Heart Show & Sale, which is held in November and features the works of inner-city and lower-income artists.

If you still think acquiring original works of art is out of your league, consider the case of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. After they married in 1962, the New York City couple lived on Dorothy's librarian salary while using Herbert's postal clerk wages to buy art -- more than 4,500 pieces in total, which they kept in their one-bedroom apartment. Theirs is considered one of the most remarkable collections of contemporary art in America. In 1992, they transferred it to the National Gallery of Art.

In this country, approximately 85 per cent of the art sold at auction sells for less than $5,000, according to Canadian arts specialist Raphaela Dunlap in an article on the website (The price range at Over the Top! is between $50 and $1,200.)

So most of us don't attend art sales and peruse galleries with an eye to elevate our status or to profit from an investment.

"The No. 1 reason to buy art is because you really like it," says Dempsey. "Truthfully, most people won't get around to reselling their art, so better to go with something that inspires you or makes you smile."

Upcoming art sale

Artarama, an art exhibit and sale in support of the Knights of Columbus, will take place March 23-25 at Mother Mary of the Church (85 Kirkbridge Dr.) in Richmond West. The event runs 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.

The works (watercolour, oil, acrylic, pastel, collage, mixed and etching) of 45 local artists will be featured, with prices ranging from under $50 to around $1,000. All funds raised are earmarked for local charities -- Habitat for Humanity, Christmas Cheer Board, Rossbrook House, St. Boniface Research Foundation and Winnipeg Harvest are past beneficiaries.


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Updated on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 1:14 PM CDT: Artarama times corrected.

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