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Collectors’ Choice: Featured Collector, Jennifer Johnson Duke



Written by Caitlyn Cooney, Curatorial Intern

Nicolas Africano, Medium Figure, 2009, Cast Glass

Why is art so valuable? What makes collectors want to collect? What makes artists want to create? These are matters of opinion, surely, but for each collector featured in Collectors’ Choice, these answers play a significant role to their decisions. The amazement felt when viewing objects so beautifully handmade, so conceptually innovative, and so emotionally moving, justifies the worth in the process of collecting maybe not otherwise realized by the viewers. Jennifer Duke has been collecting since she was a young adult. She states, “I am a visual person and love surrounding myself with beautiful things to look at. Art is a great civilizer and helps people to know their own and other cultures. Art is beautiful, decorative, and uplifting.”Jennifer Duke has a diverse collection of photographs, furniture from the 1930s, and contemporary American Abstract expressionist paintings, as well as a large selection of works by female artists. The featured sculpture from her collection by Nicolas Africano entitled Medium Figure  (2009) captures many elements of Duke’s taste in one piece. Africano’s cast glass figure sculptures, while clearly contemporary, reflect an air of classicism in their stance, posture, dress and mien. She states, “I’ve been increasingly interested in art that people make with their hands and have always been drawn to Nicolas Africano’s work. This piece reminds me a bit of a Degas; it is simple and beautiful and I love it. Especially the craft in the way the dress is sewn and the sculpture is finished.”

Nicolas Africano, Medium Figure, 2009, Cast Glass

Nicolas Africano, Medium Figure, 2009, Cast Glass

The element of craftsmanship is attractive to Duke; the talent of the artist,
being able to see their hand in the piece, knowing that at one point in history they use their hands to construct each element. The “handmade” aspect has become one of the most attractive qualities of objects within our contemporary, digital age. Hand constructed artwork, home goods, clothing, etc., all carry value in the fact that someone devoted the time and effort into constructing it without a machine. For Duke, this is an aspect of what makes her selected pieces so valuable, collectable, and creative.

Artwork can influence a culture, but it can also be influenced from it. Duke’s value in the handmade reflects the values of our modern culture. While the movement toward  digitization and machinery increases our productivity and convenience in life, the handmade now carries more theoretical weight. As a collector, Duke values the beauty of her artworks, but also their representation of culture, of the handmade, and of creativity. “I can’t imagine not collecting.”

The exhibition Collectors’ Choice: Inside the Hearts and Minds of Regional Collectors will be until September 14th, 2014.

For more information, please visit The Cummer’s website at


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