When we arrived at Mary Stanley's house, she was returning from lunch with friends, and between last-minute errands for a trip to Paris. She was gregarious, a little behind schedule, frank, and charming – characteristics familiar to those who know her. We chatted while she cut and arranged flowers from the garden, showed us some favorite pieces, and had her portraits charmingly photo-bombed by her dog, Princess Patti Smith.
Mary Stanley is the Atlanta-based creative energy behind a broad array of contemporary art initiatives. As independent curator, private art consultant, and artist representative, Mary began the Young Collectors Club in 2006 and Mary Stanley Studio in 2004, which connect artists and collectors through gallery tours, artist talks, trips, and intimate home gatherings. She also serves on the boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta Celebrates Photography, Idea Capital Atlanta, and the Board of Visitors at Lamar Dodd School of Art at University of Georgia.
Mary's home overflows with beautiful artwork, trinkets, mementos and souvenirs, all unified by a sense of warmth and fun – it's a house, and art collection, that feels at ease with itself.
How would you describe your home?
I have lived in my home for 31 years. I never wanted it to be a “showplace,” or some statement of opulence, but rather a place for comfort, wonder, and exploration. It has always been full of color and festivity, and increasingly full of contemporary art. I like the combination of modern and rustic elements, especially elegant, contemporary Italian furniture, paired with a more distressed approach to objects and upholsteries. I never wanted to have a home with a “white room,” where people felt intimidated to sit or spill. I prefer the opposite, where they want to sit everywhere or just poke around to see what’s new or curious.
I am a collector. I love to go to flea markets and yard sales, and especially enjoy collecting whimsical mementos of travels and friends. There is always a strong religious component to my quest, but other themes rise up, like miniature bunnies, or trophies, or taxidermy and hunting paraphernalia.
Many have called it the ADD Art Gallery, Idea Capital calls it The Clubhouse. Whatever it is, it's clearly a statement of my personality and my desire to create community and have fun.
Your home is so distinctive – full of individual moments, humor, and vignettes that manage to feel both curated and spontaneous. How do you make decisions about artwork, colors, placement, flow, etc?
Art is very personal. No one in my life appreciates all the art that I like. My family has both benefitted and been challenged by “living with me and my art." The maximalist in me can overwhelm even the seasoned enthusiast.
There are a number of themes in the work I collect. I have always been drawn to colorful, naïve, simplistic work, and I have a strong collection of Southern folk art and religious-themed work. Portraits, pop culture icons, and photography, in general, have always been a draw. Coming of age is a recurrent theme, as well as depictions of the feminine, particularly the reclining female.
At the end of every day, I can look at the beautiful work I’ve collected, the artists that I’ve believed in and supported in small and large ways, and the energy I feel now, and know that I’ve made a difference in my local community and beyond. The “happiness factor” created when collectors find great art, and serious artists find worthy collectors, is my reward.
What are the most precious things in your home?
People are the most important part of my home. I love to create traditions of celebration and fun, and for my home to be full of fond memories for family and all our friends.
But from the day we drove down Peachtree Street with the painting Barbie's Dream sticking out the back of our VW convertible, it's been at the center of my life. It's by Gary Komarin, a New York artist, and we found it at Sandler Hudson Gallery shortly after we bought our house. It’s reminiscent of one of my favorite art quotes, “Nothing says culture like a big-ass oil painting.”
At the exhibition, the first piece I wanted was a pair of high-heeled shoes, up to the knee, in a swimming pool, with a pink Cadillac parked next to the pool, but it was already sold. Barbie’s Dream is more traditionally inspired, with references to Balthus' painting, and it speaks to an important theme in my own art history journey. I have long been fascinated by images of the reclining female. I joke that it's because I rarely ever rest, so just looking at people reclining is very soothing to me.
Who are your style icons?
I love all things Italian and fashion. Miuccia Prada, Sophia Loren, and Jackie Kennedy have always been favorite icons. Designers like Mies van de Rohe, Le Corbusier, Tony Duquette, and John Saladino have been great sources for inspiration. When I was in high school, Kathleen Kennedy was a classmate. I will never forget hanging out at her home. It was loaded with fabulous photography in every room and had lots of “lived-in” shabby chic furnishing. I knew then that my house would look like that someday.
Tell us about your history with this house. What has been most important to you over the years?
Michelangelo said “Gazing at beautiful things acts on the soul”. My home has always been a happy place, hopefully a place where people feel welcome and inspired. It is ever changing and alive. Having parties is the only thing that has kept my house “under control” over time. Before a party, things get updated, curated, and put away, and the clutter that occurs with my obsessive interests gets reigned in just enough so you can get around.
Are there any stories that stand out to you as capturing the essence of this house and your life here?
There are many traditions at “211.” The most infamous include extravagant annual Halloween parties, huge record-breaking Christmas trees, obsessive partying, at least three weddings, including Freaknick 1993, and a collection of contemporary art and photography that never stops growing.
My oldest daughter was born on Halloween, and for the first 18 years of her life we threw outrageous and extravagantly decorated themed costume parties which grew exponentially each year. I still meet people who report that “they came down the firepole” at one of my parties.
My home is often a source of fascination for photographers, and many who visit are found slipping off to capture a few “moments”. My red velvet Jesus has been a catalyst for many interesting photo moments shot by Tommy Kha, Maude Schuler Clay, and many others.