Art Keeps Collectors Going: Helen Toomer
Portrait of Helen and Harry Toomer at STONELEAF RETREAT with works by Taylor Baldwin, Christopher Thomas Campbell, Anne-lise Coste, Linda Lopez, Kim Rugg, Anastasiya Tarasenko, Kristen Texeira, Balint Zsako, and more. Courtesy of Helen Toomer.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we’re reaching out to collectors to hear how art is enriching their lives during this time. As part of our Art Keeps Going campaign, we’re featuring their stories in “Art Keeps Collectors Going,” a series of editorial articles and videos on Instagram.
Helen Toomer is quarantining at her home in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains with her husband, Eric Romano, and their one-year-old son, Harry. The family lives on the 20-acre plot where they run the artist residency Stoneleaf Retreat. Toomer and Romano co-founded the program in 2017 to develop a supportive creative community, with a focus on women and families. In addition to leading Stoneleaf, Toomer is also the new executive director of Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE), a residency program in the subtropical wetlands of Florida’s Everglades National Park.
Over the years, she’s also served as the director of three art fairs: IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair, Collective Design Fair, and Pulse Contemporary Art Fair in Miami. And in the process, Toomer has become a trusted voice in the art world, serving as an advisor to art organizations and lecturing at art schools. All the while, she’s built an impressive collection that includes works by Zoë Buckman, Emma Kohlmann, Amanda Ross-Ho, Allison Schulnik, Devan Shimoyama, and Letha Wilson, among many others.
Recently, we caught up with Toomer to hear about how art is inspiring her at this time, and how, in turn, she’s supporting artists.
Rebecca Reeve, Untitled 11, Marjory's World, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Helen Toomer.
Portrait of Helen Toomer with works by Rebecca Reeve and Blue Curry. Courtesy of Helen Toomer.
Artsy: During this period when we’re spending more time at home, are you discovering new things about your art collection?
Helen Toomer: At this time of isolation, I feel thankful for a healthy family and warm home full of artwork and memories. A work by Rebecca Reeve, who was our year-round artist in residence at Stoneleaf in 2018–19, hangs above the desk where I work every day and provides both comfort and inspiration.
It’s a photograph of the Everglades National Park, part of her “Marjory’s World” series, which she took while on her residency in 2012 at AIRIE, an organization that I’ve recently been made executive director of. I am extremely lucky to be here at Stoneleaf while working on AIRIE’s 20th anniversary plans, and this photo transports me to the majestic wilderness of the Everglades. The work has taken on an entirely new meaning in the context of my career and also at a moment when we cannot travel to these special places and share them with the people we love.
Artsy: Are there other works you keep returning to?
H.T.: One work that brings me constant joy is by Zoë Buckman (who is a dear friend and incredible artist) and hangs in the heart of our home. What makes the piece so special is that it’s made from my wedding dress (indicative of her “Heavy Rag” series), which my husband, Eric, secretly stole from my closet. He suggested to Buckman that there should be three boxing gloves, rather than two, as we had been trying to start a family for a few years. This was a surprise Christmas gift, and days after I received it, we found out I was pregnant with Harry!
My favorite part is that Buckman chose to incorporate the dirty train, which reminds me of our walk home through McCarren Park in Williamsburg on our wedding night. I’m grateful for this work, as it’s a daily reminder of so much love.
Zoe Buckman, unique commissioned work from her “Heavy Rag” series, n.d. Courtesy of the artist and Helen Toomer.
Portrait of Helen Toomer with works by Devon Shimoyama and Zoe Buckman. Courtesy of STONELEAF RETREAT.
Artsy: Have you discovered new artists during this time?
H.T.: I’m always discovering new artists! I love that in this challenging moment, so many artists are supporting and sharing each other’s works, so I’ve been experiencing new artists that way, specifically on Instagram. I’ve also been introduced to new artists through some nonprofits we love who are producing innovative ways to support and connect with their communities, like ProjectArt, RxArt, Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York, YoungArts, and the Laundromat Project.
Artsy: Have you found ways to support artists?
H.T.: I’m currently focused on supporting artists through Stoneleaf and AIRIE’s programs. Over the past three years, Stoneleaf has built a family of 24 incredible women artists, whom I have weekly Sunday morning Zoom calls with.
This summer, we were going to welcome nine women artists and three families—the latter for the first time—but we made the difficult decision to postpone the residency program to next summer. At AIRIE, I’m lucky to inherit over 180 fellows who have participated in the residency program (which is currently on hold due to COVID-19), so I’m looking forward to getting to know them all.
We will continue to support and promote these artists and their practices on Instagram (@stoneleafretreat and @airieverglades), and I am working around the clock on new digital initiatives and connective resources.