You may know Barry Schlecker as the guy who breathed life back into the Brandywine Festival of the Arts and the Rockwood Ice Cream Festival.
But many people know him and his significant other, Ginger Weiss, as art lovers who focus on regional art and outsider art from across the country, with many pieces made by people who have become their friends.
They’re downsizing, which meant sifting through their collection, and about 50 pieces from it will go on sale Friday, Sept. 8, as the September show at Ellen Bartholomaus’s Blue Streak Gallery in Trolley Square.
“We decided we were going to cherry pick some better pieces that we’re not going to keep and Ellen, we thought, would be the best source to at least expose it to the buyer market,” Schlecker said.
He’s always liked outsider art and once traveled to Alabama each October for the annual Kentuck Art Festival, where me met a lot of outsider artists. He met many of the regional artists he collects during his time on the board of the Delaware Contemporary, the modern art museum on the Wilmington Riverfront.
The couple is moving out of their three-story house into a one-floor condominium and won’t have enough wall space to hang it all even if, as Barry jokes, Ginger would let him.
Much of the art hung in Schlecker’s offices. He owned two personnel businesses from 1977 until 2010, when he thought he would retire at the age of 70, but immediately took up event planning.
He’s still at it, with an indoors Brandywine Holiday Festival of the Arts planned for Dec. 16 and 17 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront. He’ll have room for 15o artists and within two weeks of him announcing he would try it, 100 artists already had signed up.
Choosing what to keep and what to let go of in his art collection was like choosing who to drop among his friends, Scheckler said.
“About a year or two ago it hit me that with the local art and even the outsider, the stuff I bought in Alabama and Tennessee, that I’m buying the art, one, because I love the art, and, two, because I love the artists,” he said. “Knowing or loving or caring for the artists was the difference.”
Local artists whose pieces he owns and he considers friends include Ken Mabrey, the late Mitch Lyons and the late Gus V. Sermas. Schlecker and Weiss kept several of their pieces, but a few are in the Blue Streak Show.
“Those three people probably made up 80% of local artists that I have collected over the years,” he said. “I guess, just hanging out with them, getting to know them as friends, made the paintings means so much more to me.”
The same was true for the outsider — also called folk or primitive — artists he know. Outsider artists have no formal art training and generally come from families who are struggling financially, and yet create art because they’re driven to.
Schlecker spent a decade traveling to Kentuck with this friend Larry Martini. “Larry and Barry,” he says with a laugh.
They signed up as patrons, which gave them early access to shows and the pair often showed up to help some of the artists set up their booths.
People came to think of them as brothers, a mistake that began when one of the artists realized that the tags both wore around their necks said Patron.
“I didn’t know you were brothers,” he told Barry, and started introducing them as the Patron brothers, which he pronounced PAW-trone.
The memory makes Barry laugh again.
He remembers long visits with Ruby C. Williams, Butch Anthony, Eric McGee and more.
“There’s so many stories because, as you know, every artist and every person has a story,” Schlecker said. “Some of these people really have no teeth. Some of them can’t read or write. But, boy, can they they can express themselves.”
Weiss had known Schlecker for nearly two decades when they became a couple 22 years ago.
“Outsider art in particular was all new to me,” she said. “But he is drawn to the outsider artists because of the stories and even the Ken Mabreys of the world. It’s the artists. It’s the stories behind them. That is what just breaks his heart because they’ve all got stories. And so it wasn’t hard to get completely enveloped in all of this.”
Price tags on everything
“When she moved in, she wasn’t very nice to me,” Schlecker said. “She wouldn’t let me keep the price tags on everything.”
She shoots him a look. He moved in with her.
“He’s not joking,” she said. “He had price tags on everything.”
At that time, he was also into buying and selling primitive furniture. His house on Bancroft was full of it.
“The joke was everything in the house is for sale except me,” Schlecker said. “I was for rent, and my prices were really low.”
But he stopped selling out of the house.
Schlecker and Weiss ended up owning about 600 pieces of art.
They have chosen pieces for their new home, and their children have been given their favorites, too.
The couple sent some pieces to be auctioned at Material Culture in Philadelphia, but they wanted some made available in Wilmington and reached out to Bartholomaus, a longtime friend and owner of Blue Streak.
She’s had experience with helping collectors and their families disperse of their pieces. When time came to break up the collection of the laste Alice Beasley Hupfel, the longtime head of the Delaware Art Musem’s store, the family asked Bartholomaus to help.
Bartholomaus hesitated at first, unsure she should get involved.
Then she started thinking about the number of collectors who are getting older and worrying about how to pass on their art, particularly if their children don’t want it, and decided it was a service that needed to be undertaken.
Hupfel’s family brought her about 30 pieces, and she sold them all — buying five pieces herself.
Bartholomaus started talking to Scheckler and Weiss about a year ago. She and Weiss have been actively working for four months on what was coming to the gallery.
A few pieces are up now, but the majority of the show will be hung next week, along with information about the artists that promoted Schlecker and Weiss to buy the piece.
Bartholomaus characterizes the pieces as strong and generally colorful, although there is a smattering of black and white, usually drawings.
The show will be unveiled during the Sept. 8 Wilmington Art Loop, with a reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. that night.
She, Barry and Weiss worked on the prices for the pieces, which Bartholomaus calls affordable.
The couple, like many collectiors, she said, care about the pieces and want them to go to a home where they will continue to be enjoyed and cherished.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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