Arts + Culture / The Past

Naples’ Best Local Art Collection May Just Be at this Couple’s Condo at The Arlington

Charles Marshall and Richard Tooke—nephew of Naples matriarch Mamie Tooke—have amassed a stunning collection containing three decades of local art history.

BY July 1, 2023
Art collectors Charles Marshall and Richard Tooke
Richard and Charles moved to Naples after Richard’s aunt, Mamie Tooke, the president of Naples’ first bank, passed away. They’ve been avid collectors since. (Photo by Anna Nguyen)

Go to Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum’s current show Naples Collects, and you’ll see a pair of names reemerge on the plaques: Charles Marshall and Richard Tooke. The Naples couple’s loaned works for the show include Faith Ringgold’s energetic You Put the Devil in Me and Will Barnet’s study for Woman and White Cat.

The duo downsized some when they moved from their midcentury modern home on Gulf Shore Boulevard North to The Arlington of Naples retirement community. The watercolors painted by Charles’ father went to the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University, some pieces were gifted to their Arlington community to beautify public spaces, the Steve Tobin White Rainbow Root sculpture that stood in their yard went to Naples Botanical Garden. They almost gifted the Faith Ringgold to a woman who wanted it for her daughter. “We thought, ‘Well, it’s really big. We don’t have room to take it,’” Charles recalls. “Richard went online and looked it up, and it was shown at $32,000. So, we said, ‘Yeah, we better keep it.’”

Even after the gifts, Richard and Charles’ collection remains robust, and their 1,500-square-foot Arlington apartment contains one of the best assortments of regional art, with works collected since they moved here in 1993.

Richard is a descendant of Mamie Tooke; her husband, Clarence, founded the town’s first bank. Mamie took over as president when Clarence passed away in 1955. The pioneer kept her bank doors open to allow in the breeze and friendly conversation. She maintained her desk near the entrance until she was 91. “Everyone in town knew her,” Charles says. “When she would show up at a lounge or somewhere, they would play [the song from the movie ‘Aunt Mame.’]”

The 91-year-old Charles and 89-year-old Richard remain strong supporters of the arts. Their most recent acquisition was Mally Khorasantchi’s The Hidden Secrets of Trees #IV from her show at Harmon-Meek Gallery in December. They admit the 4-foot piece is a little larger than they typically get these days, living in a small space, but they couldn’t resist. This month, the couple cosponsors Naples Art Institute’s Naples Invitational with about 40 Collier artists. “Frank (Verpoorten) was reaching out for sponsors, and we were able to do it, so we did,” Charles says.

Nearly every square inch of their apartment’s walls is covered with paintings and photographs. Most surfaces flaunt ceramics and small sculptures, like the abstract carved bronze piece by Melvin Schuler they purchased at a sale from avid collector and Naples resident Olga Hirshhorn’s collection.

After Mamie had passed and the couple retired in 1993, Richard and Charles bought her home and moved to Naples. Richard had been visiting his Naples aunt and uncle since the 1940s. Before moving to New York City to attend grad school for fine art at Columbia University, he lived with Mamie and worked for historian Doris Reynolds, illustrating her magazines. “He did the first map of Naples,” Charles says, noting that the couple donated the piece to the Naples Historical Society.

The pair got involved with the Naples Philharmonic (now Artis—Naples) right away. Richard eventually took on the role of president of the Naples Museum of Art (now The Baker Museum) Friends of Art group. During his tenure, he started the Incognito fundraiser, with about 300 artists painting chairs for the auction. The chair with a nude painting by Roger Sherman came from the auction. A friend had won it but was coy about displaying it and would stash it when company came over, so Richard and Charles traded with him, unabashed to let the art sit openly.

Their apartment is outfitted almost exclusively with midcentury modern furnishings. Renowned Naples interior designer and midcentury savant Richard Geary refinished the couple’s cerulean Bertoia Diamond chair. He also made the cabinet that sits outside their living room. “And that’s a Gail Geary,” Charles says, pointing to an earthy ceramic by the designer’s wife. Works from Robert Rauschenberg, Marcus Jansen and Jonathan Green hang around Knoll lighting and the Eames lounge and ottoman New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) gifted Richard (Tooke) after he retired from a 30-year career with the museum. Charles was the lead architect for the Presbyterian Church nationwide. The two met in 1960 when Richard played piano for the group’s prayer service. “When I saw Richard, I thought, ‘Well, I better start coming to prayer more,’” Charles says smiling. They spent three decades living in New York, attending exhibitions at MoMA, The Met and The Frick Collection. When they moved to Naples, the recently retired couple had more time on their hands and started collecting in earnest.

Going through their home is like getting a history lesson on Southwest Florida art. In the living room hangs a Stephen Knapp Lightpainting, which casts prismatic neon rays across the room at night. “Myra [Janco Daniels] had the Collectors’ Corner that sold artwork, and we bought it there,” Charles says, referring to the art gallery the Naples art pioneer maintained in Hayes Hall for about a decade.

Everywhere you look hangs a story. Their bedroom alone contains about 40 artworks. “Here’s a Richard Segalman of a landscape in Central Park—landscapes are not something he usually did, so that’s why we liked it,” Charles says, referring to the artist who notably documented Naples beach scenes. “This is an early Paul Arsenault, somewhere in Cuba—and the other one he did is over the doorway there, that was Grenada … That’s Mary Voytech, you know, she’s at [Florida Gulf Coast University].” The primary bathroom holds a plaster bust Charles has toted around since taking art lessons in New York in the ’60s and works by their friend and Fort Myers artist Michael St. Amand, who created a bright collage with the number ‘50’ for the couple’s golden anniversary. At their anniversary party in 2010, the 80 guests included Myra Janco Daniels, Juan Diaz, Richard Rosen, Mally Khorasantchi, and Dr. John and Fran Fenning.

In a hallway leading to the spare bedroom, Richard and Charles keep a gallery of small works, including what they believe is a Matisse they acquired at the Collectors’ Corner (since it’s not dated, they couldn’t get it authenticated), and several works by Reynier Llanes, the Cuban-born artist, who’s known for painting with coffee and whose pieces now sell prominently at Harmon-Meek. “This is one of his first oil paintings from when he was apprenticing with Jonathan Green,” Charles says, then gestures to a coffee painting of a sepia-toned, Afro-haired woman. “He told us that he made his coffee the way his mother always said, with cream and sugar. Turns out, the sugar tends not to dry; it stays runny and sticky. We have one piece from when he first started doing it that way and the sugar dripped onto the mat, so we just left it—you know, it’s part of it.” (Of course, Reynier no longer uses sugar in his coffee paintings, Charles assures.)

In his earlier days in Naples, Charles used to drive around town in his mother’s 1968 Plymouth Valient. He now drives a Tesla but remains a lifelong Antique Automobile Club of America member. The spare bedroom displays some of his antique and vintage model cars, including replicas of buses they rode on travels to Cuba. There’s also art from when Richard curated a show in Tbilisi, Georgia, and a wall of the late Sanibel artist Hollis Jeffcoat’s works. “She studied with Joan Mitchell in Paris,” Charles says, pointing out the finesse in Hollis’ abstract print titled Charley after the hurricane that ripped through the region in 2004.

Their collecting philosophy has been simple: If they like a piece or can find some meaning in it, they get it. Many of the works were acquired through local fundraisers. “If there was art that we liked and we knew it would benefit a purpose, we were always willing to purchase it,” Charles says.

Several international heavy-hitters show up in the collection: Keith Haring, Hunt Slonem, Wolf Kahn, Eliot O’Hara (Richard gifted Charles an O’Hara Paris scene as a tribute to their travels to the City of Love). Still, about 40 percent of the collection is made up of local artists, and at least 90 percent was acquired through local art galleries (Harmon-Meek, Sweet Art, Gardner Colby, the defunct Eckert Fine Art) and fundraisers (Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center and United Arts Collier come up frequently in conversation). The couple has also introduced artist friends from New York and Pennsylvania to Naples. Steve Tobin, whose Nature Underground exhibit was at Naples Botanical Garden from 2020 through 2021, is a friend of theirs from Pennsylvania. “One of the reasons he got involved in Naples was because we introduced him to Myra Daniels, and she had a show for him at the museum,” Charles says of his first show here in 2012.

In the spare room’s closet, a stack of filing cabinets contains manilla folders with records for each artwork. Sometimes, a file has pamphlets for the exhibit or a note from the artist. Charles and Richard always document when the piece was purchased, where and for how much. Charles pulls out a folder. “Rainer Lagemann—let’s see what we say about him …” The German sculptor’s wire figures climb the walls of Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers. A set of flying divers used to float from the glass-domed ceiling at The Baker Museum before it was remodeled. “He’s the one that did the wire bottom,” Charles says, referring to the metal form in the shape of a pair of glutes that rests atop a shelf in the guest room. He pulls out files outlining the artist’s process. “See, he made a form and then he would lay them all in there and weld them together to get these shapes. We learned about him because Frank Verpoorten had him hanging in the [Baker].”

And it’s not all visual art, Charles points out. “Here is Keith Lockhart; he was a conductor with the Naples Philharmonic and left to be the conductor of the Boston Pops. He came back for a show, and we had our picture taken with him.”

Behind the filing cabinets are stacked dozens more canvases they don’t have room to display, including Charles’ watercolors and Richard’s oil paintings. “He’s a beautiful painter,” Charles says of his partner of 62 years.

Though their collecting has slowed (“We don’t have any space left,” Charles says with a laugh), the duo won’t hesitate to get a work of art if it speaks to them, and they’re always eager to appreciate local art. Sometimes, that means going to the lobby to listen to musicians like Juilliard-trained Milana Strezeva play on the Samick grand piano they acquired from an auction at Sidney & Berne Davis Center and gifted to The Arlington. “I never thought I’d end up living in Naples,” Charles says. “But now I sure am glad we did.” 

Photography by Anna Nguyen

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