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No Mere Abstraction

Paul and Charlotte Corddry have lived in homes all around the United States and in London, and ever since they've been able to afford it, they've filled those homes with art.

Now their Naples Gulf-front condominium is the primary gallery for their collection, which centers mostly on abstract works by artists including Ellsworth Kelly, Sam Francis, Charles Arnoldi, Larry Rivers and Captiva's own Robert Rauschenberg. And since the couple purchased their residence in the construction phase, they were able to ensure that it would be a proper setting for the work they love-for example, planning a 17-foot-long dining room wall, which was necessary to hold a Pat Steir painting from the artist's water lilies series.

That horizontal painting, done in dripping shades of gray and black, dominates the Corddrys' dining room, but every room of their home resonates with art. Although they also have pieces from their collection in their second home in Boise, Idaho, and in their New York apartment, Paul admits that "this place just soaked up the art like crazy" with its expansive white walls and generous, open space. "When we moved in, half the walls were empty, so we went on a two-year shopping spree. What's been really fun is deciding what to hang and how to hang it."

The Corddrys' fascination with art began when Paul was an executive for Ore-Ida, in the potato country of Idaho. The couple had met while both were working for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, but in their early married life, with three young children in the house, they didn't have money or time to collect art.

But when Paul's company decided to put a contemporary art collection in their new office building-with a minimalist budget of $35,000-Paul began working with art dealers to put that collection together. "All of it was prints, because that was what we could afford," he recalls. "And we began to collect a few prints for our own collection at the same time. Our kids have most of those now, because they've become collectors, too. Most of our pieces here are originals at this point."

From the beginning, both Paul and Charlotte gravitated toward abstract works (they have lately included some figurative pieces as well), and their individual tastes have, fortunately, developed in much the same way. "We decided it was better to get to know one thing and stick with it," explains Charlotte. "In the early '70s, when we started buying artists like Sam Francis, it was fairly reasonable to do so, too. Of course, we're terribly proud of ourselves now."

Over the years, collecting artwork has become not only an avocation but a way of life, one that frequently dictates the Corddrys' travel schedule and social life-not that they're complaining about that. "The world of contemporary art is really such a small one," says Paul, "that we get to know almost everyone in it. Not only the artists and dealers, but other collectors, too."

The Corddrys have never used a curator for their collection, as some art lovers do. But as Charlotte says, "We sure listen to dealers. And about 70 percent of our mail is from dealers we've worked with," including such long-established New York names as Robert Miller and Pace and such up-and-coming smaller dealers as Jack Shainman and the young married couple who comprise Fredericks Freiser. They also acquire some works here in Naples.

"We've bought a lot of pieces through Eckert Fine Art," says Paul. "We have a lot of respect for them. They introduced us to Rauschenberg. When we bought this place, we brought him over and said to him, 'Bob, that's your wall. Tell us what you want to put there.'" What they ended up with was a long piece of aluminum, covered with red enamel and acrylic transfers, that somehow changes as you look at it according to the time of day or night.

Forming friendships with artists is not only something they enjoy. It can, on occasion, serve the collection very well. For example, Paul says, "One day we were visiting Larry Rivers' studio, and we saw a three-dimensional piece of his son. The dealer who was with us said, 'Larry will never sell that one.' But Larry said, 'I'll sell it to the Corddrys, because I know them.' Another time we got a Sam Francis piece that was supposed to be headed to the Seoul Art Museum. Sam got mad at the Koreans for some reason, so we snapped it up instead."

Another route to acquisition for the Corddrys has been at auction. "Our New York apartment is within walking distance of the auction houses, and I love going," says Charlotte. "Paul gets too restless and can't sit through auctions, but we always look at the catalogs together beforehand and figure out what we want and how high we can go. We got a Philip Pearlstein at auction that's now in our home in Idaho."

Along with such big-name artists, the couple frequently acquires bright new stars in the art firmament. John Wesley, who just had a show at New York's P.S. 1, is represented by several pieces, including "Hats Off to Japan," which displays four nude women holding flags emblazoned with the rising sun symbol of that country and kicking like chorus girls; it hangs in the Corddrys' den. They recently bid on another Wesley piece at a Christie's auction but dropped out when the bidding soared to more than $50,000-which both disappointed and pleased them, since it heightens the values of their other Wesleys.

In the living room, a standing two-piece panel incorporating some slightly sinister-looking figures by Ida Applebroog ("Totems") and a three-dimensional female figure by Romanian artist Mircea Roman overlook the Gulf view. The dining room is home, not only to Pat Steir, but to a Dubuffet collage, a sculpture by the late Italo Scanga titled "Potato Famine," and a Thomas Hart Benton that Paul says they picked up at a rummage sale for $300.

In the kitchen, appropriately, are a perpendicular construction of milk cartons (done in mixed media and oils) by Jonathan Seliger and a small painting by Elizabeth Crawford ("She sells out in a minute," says Charlotte) that Paul just had to have because it highlights a ketchup bottle. (He retired from H.J. Heinz 10 years ago after a long career with that company.)

Wandering through the condo's other rooms, you'll also find an Ed Kienholz construction that turns an oilcan into a television, an atypical Robert Motherwell painting composed of blue, curving vertical stripes hanging opposite a small abstract work by ex-wife Helen Frankenthaler, a gentle-looking Nancy Graves painting from her "Skeletal Remains" series, a large, colorful Esteban Vicente rug in one of the bathrooms (not far from one of Jim Dine's bathrobe prints in the back foyer), and a Roy Lichtenstein waterlily print as well as a starburst light sculpture by local artist Mary Voytek called "Supernova" that pays tribute to Lichtenstein's trademark comic strip style.

With all the paintings, sculptures and Murano glass around, the Corddrys' home is still a home, not a museum. The couple's four young grandchildren visited them for the Christmas holidays, and Charlotte admits they kept finding fingerprints on those white walls for quite a while afterwards. "We really didn't want to end up with peanut butter on the Lichtenstein," Paul says with a chuckle.

The Corrdrys have frequently lent pieces from their collection (which in Naples alone contains at least 100 works) for shows at the Philharmonic Center here, the Boise Gallery of Art, P.S. 1 and the Tang Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, among other venues. They are big supporters of the new Naples Museum of Art, with one of the gallery rooms there bearing their name. And Paul serves on the board of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D. C., where he's on the committee planning a new Frank Gehry building there.

The Corddrys do occasionally take a break from buying, looking at and talking about art. They returned recently from an around the world trip that included stops in Papua New Guinea, and Cambodia; Charlotte plays a little golf; and both she and her husband, she says, are "copious readers." But there's no doubt that art frames their daily lives. "It gets in your blood," Paul says of the hunt for fresh, exciting work. "If you love a piece, you'll always find a home for it." 

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