A life in Art

Andrew was in the side garden and starting to tell me the story of how it all came about. My appointment was at 10:00 o’clock in the morning. I had tried three different doors including the main one facing Route 140 but all were locked and there had been no response to my knocks. “This makes sense,” I thought. “My friend Jan who interviewed them for her community-cable television show said they kept to themselves.” “Sonja will be with us shortly,” Andrew said now. He was pretty much the kind of man I had expected to meet after talking with him on the telephone; older, slightly stooped, frumpy in his black leather jacket with thinning grayish-white hair that had been only cursorily attended to, professorial in diction and manner as I assumed would have been the case with someone who had taught English at the University of Wisconsin for thirty-five years. He saw that my eyes had drifted toward a large nondescript sculpture set amid a blanket of ground cover. “It was made in Spain,” he said. “Stands ten feet tall and weighs one ton. It represents humanity reaching for the stars. The official name of the piece is ʽHomage to Brancusi.’ It took five people and a crane to put it there.” “Quite impressive.” I tried to sound knowledgeable— sophisticated—but I suspected he wasn’t buying it. He must have known, instinctively, that art wasn’t my forte. He was nice enough to let this go. Inside, in what had been the Upton Unitarian Church, Andrew explained that they had come to Massachusetts in 2004 at the request of their son who was living in Mendon and missed them. They were taken by a realtor to look at a property they had expressed interest in, just up the road. Walking back, Andrew said, “we saw these two stained-glass windows and a for-sale sign. We asked to see the church. We thought seriously for about fifteen seconds. It was clearly meant to be.” Sonja joined us. I figured she must have come from downstairs, where they live. She appeared to enter reluctantly, disinterestedly, but once we got to conversing she warmed to the prospect. Andrew Weiner and Sonja Hansard-Weiner relish nothing so much as discussing their Spaightwood Galleries—“more than 9,000 works of fine art from the 15th Century to the 21st, possibly the largest collection of private art in New England,” Andrew says. On the floor of what had been a sanctuary once containing pews and a pulpit, Andrew and his wife told of taking a long car trip with three of their eventual five children in the bicentennial year—1976. “We were three-pack-a-day cigarette smokers,” Andrew said. “Our kids told us they would never get in the car with us again if we didn’t quit smoking. So we smoked our last cigarettes and haven’t had one since. Now we had money so we started buying art. We built our collection with cigarette money! We started off randomly then we went to Paris for a belated honeymoon, looked at some works at the Galerie Maeght and from there every time we sold something we bought something. It keeps us young. If it weren’t for this we would still be teaching in Madison, where there are no retirement restrictions (Sonja had been employed at Madison Area Technical College).” Implausible as it seems, the relocation to Upton from their 4,000-square-foot historically registered home in Madison has been rewarding even though it took four moving trucks to cart their belongings east. Renovations that had to be made didn’t phase them either. “We had to replace the dirty industrial carpet,” Sonja, who wears large black-framed glasses, said. “That was a $48,000 surprise and there were many other surprises,” Andrew said (higher-illumination lighting they installed shows off the rich dark-wood ceiling that is a favorite of Sonja’s). I did not pretend to recognize the names of some of the artists whose works are on display; Helen Frankenthaler (an abstract impressionist who was a major contributor to the history of postwar American painting, I later learned), Marc Chagall (an early modernist of Russian-French heritage), and Susan Rothenberg (an American contemporary painter who lives in the New Mexico desert and whose pieces have been compared to those of Georgia O’Keeffe). The day I visited they were assembling an exhibition of Gerard Titus-Carmel. The symbolism of this particular show is not lost on them, they said. “Titus-Carmel also lives in a church,” Andre


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