Denny Griffith was a young artist at the beginning of his career when he spotted a man named Popeye Reed wearing a quirky blond wig and selling sandstone sculptures out of the back of a van in Southern Ohio.
Griffith was drawn to one of a woman sitting erect-shoulders back, body naked.
"I just liked the sculpture," Griffith said. "When you're trained, and you studied all of the great artists there's just something neat about a guy in Jackson, Ohio, carving out of sandstone."
He paid $20 for the piece.
Some thirty years later, Popeye Reed's folk art sells for thousands and is displayed in museums like the Smithsonian, and Griffith and his wife are power players in the regional art scene.
Griffith is the president of the Columbus College of Art & Design, and his wife, Beth Fisher, spent most of her life in the arts as well.
Their Bexley-area home is a gallery of awe-inspiring work and eclectic surprises, most collected during their 25 years of marriage. Some are works by elite, world-renowned artists. Others are by faculty and students at CCAD. A few are flea-market finds. And several are creations by Griffith himself.
"Both of us always say you have to buy work that you love," Fisher said. "There's student work that I love as much as some of the other work we have."
The couple started collecting as young lovers, driving to gallery openings in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and often buying work from friends. "We bought a lot of work for next to nothing, because we couldn't afford it," Fisher said. But they did-and still do-find joy in the search. Plus, they consider themselves fortunate to know several artists, making those pieces all the richer. Of course, their collection has evolved. "Your tastes change. Your pocketbook changes," Fisher said. "It's a way of kind of having your life in a capsule in your home."
When they moved into their current house eight years ago, it took time to figure out what art belonged where. Their previous home was a three-story Victorian in Olde Towne East that boasted folk art "everywhere." This more-refined home called for a different approach. They spent several months getting comfortable in the space before permanently placing anything.
Black and white photography, they realized, worked well. "It didn't seem to compete with the architecture as much," Fisher said. Griffith, who Fisher jokes is a "stealth decorator," would occasionally get up in the middle of the night and hang a picture.
The result is an inviting, intimate space filled with original art-and the interesting stories behind it.
And among their prominently displayed treasures is the Popeye Reed sculpture that Griffith purchased so many years ago from the back of a van-an eternal reminder, perhaps, that beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder, not the price of the piece.