Reflections, Contributions and Lessons from a Passionate Art Collector

By Devorah Crable

Daniel T. Parker is highly regarded for his robust art collection that covers every square inch of wall and floor space in his expansive Kenwood, Chicago duplex home.

The composite collection illuminates the rich arc of the Black art tradition with ancient traditional African art to contemporary art expressions. Indigenous African art of antiquity, including wood sculptures and cravings, pottery, furniture, textiles, tapestries, and musical instruments are interspersed with paintings, drawings and sculptures created by African-American and African Diaspora artists. Each work of art has its unique collector’s acquisition story and history.

Parker’s appreciation of art was seeded at an early age by his mother, who collected objects d’art from antique and second-hand stores. The eldest of six siblings, his job was to clean the collectibles, and to make sure the younger ones did not break the precious items. Later, he was greatly influenced by his high school art teacher, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Black culturalist and co-founder of the DuSable Museum of African American Art and History who, in his adult life, became a trusted art collector muse and valued mentor.

Motivated by Dr. Burroughs’ lessons and the images of Black people depicted in her massive home art collection, Parker revisited his mother’s passion with renewed inspired interest. He, too, scoured second-hand shops for Black art and searched for books to learn more about Black artists and the “primitive” art created by Africans. The term “primitive” held negative connotations for Parker until his research and travels to Africa revealed a deeper understanding that became foundational for defining the purpose of his traditional African art collection and art activism. “Primitive means the first. We (Black people) were the first to do art, and the discoveries of art in caves are [sic] the oldest in Africa. That (learning) gave me a personal uplift that I could then give to others… that this isn’t just primitive art, but this is FIRST art created by Black hands and that says something profound.”

Parker says even though documented history shows the genesis of all art is attributable to Black people, Black art does not receive just recognition by many mainstream high art institutions. He and three other Black art collectors decided to change that dynamic through creation of Diasporal Rhythms, a not-for-profit organization that is committed to expanding appreciation of contemporary visual art created by artists of the African Diaspora. The organization hosts workshops, seminars, art tours of homes and galleries, but it is their auction events that move the Black art value needle.

“Local art auctions garner the attention of gallerists, museums and larger auction houses,” says Parker. “When you create an environment where individuals enter a bidding war for art, you increase the value of that art and recognition of the artist, and, this allows us to chip away at the racism that exists in the art world.”

A dearth of Black art books, combined with the need to catalogue his vast collection prior to downsizing his home, compelled Parker to “immortalize” his personal art museum in a book, African Art: The Diaspora and Beyond. Parker says the art collector plays a powerful and vital role in the advancement of Black art. He believes those with substantive collections should promote, archive and share their collections.

“Loaning art from your personal collection to museums and galleries to give Black artists greater exposure among those that value, buy and showcase art.”

Collecting art has become a life vocation for Parker, who says he evolved from an art enthusiast to habitual learner to a near art addict with the balancing point being the reality of having to pay the bills. Appreciating how his art collecting journey has enriched his life, he offers these tips to the flowering collector:

Buy what you like. No one can duplicate the emotional or spiritual connection that you have with a piece of work. And, you are the one who will live with it every day.

Learn about the artist’s background. Find out about their history and evolution as an artist. Did they attend school or are they self-taught? Have they been commissioned to do work? Have they received awards and recognition? Are they an art influencer or thought leader?

See where they exhibit.

Find out what galleries or museums or other exhibit spaces carry their work. See who else collects their art. The artist may not be in a museum or gallery, but may be found in private collections. Get information about the artist from gallery owners or books. If living, go to the artist’s studio and develop an artist/collector relationship with them.

Learn about the artist’s scope. Is the artist local and do they plan to stay local? Many artists opt to stay in the community and align themselves with a school or community center to teach art. Others will have a global perspective and will choose to have their work scattered around the world. Have your collection appraised, archived and insured!

Know the value of your collection whether you are collecting for passion or for investment purposes. Certificates of authentication are good to secure for investment acquisitions and get insurance. Parker says he learned the hard way that insurance is mandatory. He almost lost his collection in a house fire, but with the “overwhelming humanity of Chicago’s Black art community,” he was able to salvage and restore most of his prize collection.