The Collectors

From million-dollar historic documents that shaped our national character to the controlled chaos of a breathtaking garden, members of the Duke community reveal how they came to own objects of inestimable value.

Nancy Sanders Goodwin: Flora

Two years ago, Nancy Sanders Goodwin '58 erected a deer-proof fence around Montrose, the historic, sixty-one acre property in Hillsborough, North Carolina, she has transformed into a series of gardens that attracts horticulturists and gardeners from around the world.

On a cool spring morning in late May as she walks past an explosion of purple, fuchsia, and pink poppies swaying in a slight breeze, Goodwin lists the flora that have made a comeback since the voracious pests have been banished from the grounds—hostas, day lilies, cyclamen, phlox. "I'm born again," she says.  

Blossoming: Amid spring poppies, Goodwin surveys Montrose's natural wonders. Image by Les Todd

Goodwin calls herself a gardener, an understatement akin to calling Maria Callas a singer. She has been captivated with plants her whole life. Her parents grew trees, shrubs, and flowers at their Durham home, and Goodwin learned the careful patience needed for cultivating plants when a reluctant iris in her care failed to bloom for years (see Duke Magazine, September-October 2000). At Duke, she took a plant taxonomy course with botany professor and plant physiologist Aubrey Naylor, learning the scientific foundation of what would become her life's passion. "I'm so lucky that I've found the one thing I really love to do," she says.

Goodwin and her husband, Craufurd Goodwin Ph.D. '58, a longtime economics professor at Duke, bought Montrose in 1977. (Craufurd Goodwin's own collection—art from the Bloomsbury coterie of British artists, writers, and intellectuals—was the focus of a yearlong celebration at Duke in 2008-09.) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Montrose had been the estate of William Alexander Graham, a North Carolina governor and a U.S. and state senator, and his wife, Susan Washington Graham. When the Goodwins bought the estate, some of the original gardens the Grahams planted remained. But in the more than three decades since, Nancy Goodwin has gradually created a breathtaking landscape.

Though carefully thought out—there are, for example, sections devoted to tropicals such as bananas, cannas, and agaves; a scree garden with sedums, cacti, and ferns; and a terraced woodland area with hellebores, primroses, and snowdrops—the gardens have a feeling of spontaneity, an impression Goodwin encourages. "The challenge of whether or not I can grow a certain plant is not the point anymore," she says. "It's the flow of the garden that matters. I love the element of surprise. There is something new to see every day."

Montrose is nature at its most glorious, with unusual hybrids, unexpected color pairings, and textural symphonies. It is also rich with memories. "The garden is an accumulation of associations," says Goodwin. There are plants sown from seeds given to her by fellow horticulturists, bulbs that thrived despite droughts, cuttings from friends who are no longer living. Goodwin's mother loved wildflowers, and every April, when bloodroot and trillium bloom, "it's like she is here with me again."

Although Goodwin can't bear the thought of missing a day in the gardens, she knows that the day will come when she and Craufurd are no longer able to maintain the gardens and the nineteenth-century house and outbuildings that make up Montrose. In 2007, they established the Montrose Foundation, which will preserve and sustain the gardens and buildings in perpetuity.


Philanthropic impulse: Rubenstein answers reporters' questions moments after buying a copy of the 1297 version of the Magna Carta. ©Justin Lane/epa/Corbis

David M. Rubenstein: Historic Documents

On the evening of Monday, December 17, 2007, David M. Rubenstein '70 arrived at Sotheby's New York salesroom on the Upper East Side for an invitation-only preview of the next day's auction. Rubenstein was interested in one item in particular: the last surviving copy of the 1297 version of the Magna Carta in private hands and the only one in the U.S.

As cofounder and managing director of the Washington-based Carlyle Group , Rubenstein has helped build one of the world's largest private-equity firms. But as he scanned the fragile parchment that still bore the royal seal of King Edward I, Rubenstein saw the document not through the eyes of a shrewd businessman considering a worthwhile investment but from his perspective as the only child of a working-class family, a dedicated student of history, and a self-made man who, by his own measure, embodies the promise of the American Dream.

"When our founding fathers began working on what would become the Declaration of Independence and, later, the Constitution," he says, "they looked to the Magna Carta as the basis for citizens' rights." Considered the birth certificate of freedom by historians, the Magna Carta was first drafted in 1215 by English barons who wanted to limit the powers of King John. The king signed the document but showed no indication he intended to honor its terms.

The document underwent several revisions through the years, until, in 1297, it was officially enacted into English law. Among its core precepts are liberties and protections that endure today: no taxation without representation, no person above the law, the right to due process.

"I read that it was going up for auction and became concerned that it might be purchased by someone who would take it out of the United States," says Rubenstein. "When I saw it at the auction preview that night, a light bulb went off, and I knew I had to buy it." He confided his decision to no one, not even his wife or three children. He was back in Washington the next day, completed his scheduled appointments, then flew back to New York for the auction. Traffic in New York was so bad that he made it to Sotheby's only minutes before the bidding began.

The document was estimated to go for as much as $30 million; Rubenstein says he did not set an upper limit on how much he was willing to spend. When bidding ended only minutes after it had begun—at $21.3 million—Rubenstein was the Magna Carta's new owner. Sotheby's officials gave him the options of slipping out a private door or meeting with the group of international reporters curious to discover who had bought the historic document. He opted for the latter. "I wanted people to know my reasons."

Rubenstein told reporters that he had bought the Magna Carta "as a gift to the American people." He stipulated that it continue to be on public display at the National Archives, where it had been on loan from the Ross Perot Foundation since the Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate had purchased it in 1984 for $1.5 million.

(The press conference delayed Rubenstein's arrival at a business dinner that evening. "I told them I was late because I'd bought the Magna Carta," he recalls, smiling. "They didn't believe me.")

Although he says he doesn't consider himself a collector by nature, Rubenstein is drawn to seminal historical documents. In 2008, he purchased a rare 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence, which is on permanent loan to the U.S. State Department. That same year he bought a copy of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, and arranged for it to be placed on permanent loan to the White House.

He says he had thought it might be displayed in the Lincoln Bedroom, which served as a presidential office before the West Wing was built. Instead, President Obama chose to place it in the Oval Office, unveiling it before a group of civil rights leaders on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday earlier this year.

Rubenstein says his philanthropic impulses spring from a deep sense of patriotism and gratitude for how far he has come: from his blue-collar beginnings in Baltimore to attending Duke on an academic scholarship to succeeding in the upper echelons of the international business world. Purchasing and preserving historically momentous documents such as the Magna Carta, he says, is one way he can begin to repay "the great debt I have to our country for the good fortune I have had to be an American."

Timeless classics: Guttentag, above, holds Mirolarm model; below, Bakelite Eclectroalarm and Monitor Top models. Photo by Les Todd

Christoph Guttentag: Clocks

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions, had a few false starts on his way to becoming a clock collector. There was his short-lived phase of acquiring Art Deco appliances. After the third or fourth waffle iron, he realized such a collection could quickly become unwieldy. Then there was the cocktail-shaker period, but since he rarely drinks cocktails, it seemed silly to collect something he wouldn't use, even occasionally.

It was only after buying his second vintage electric clock that he realized he'd found an object that captured his imagination, that he could afford to buy in quantity, and that wouldn't take up too much room.

He quickly zeroed in on clocks made by Telechron— originally the Warren Clock Company, founded by an inventor named Henry Ellis Warren—which produced elegantly designed, meticulously engineered clocks. Telechron was eventually acquired by General Electric, which closed its last Telechron manufacturing plant in the late 1970s. Guttentag's collection consists mostly of clocks produced during the company's Art Deco period.

"There are two reasons why I find Telechrons so interesting," Guttentag says. "One is that they are so beautiful. The company used some of the country's top designers. And, second, they represent a period when clocks became remarkably accurate. Warren invented a clock that combined a synchronous motor with the alternating currents provided by electric companies, and that turned plug-in clocks into reliable timepieces. In fact, many of his 'master clocks' were responsible for keeping the current steady at sixty hertz."

At the time, Guttentag was working in admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, a job that required a lot of travel. Wherever he went, he'd comb thrift stores and antique malls in search of Telechrons. At his acquisitive peak, during an admissions recruiting trip to the Pacific Northwest, he wound up with about a dozen Telechrons that he had to haul home in an Eddie Bauer duffel bag. "That's when I realized that even though it wasn't quite out of control, it had become a bit of an obsession."

Of the more than 300 clocks he has collected, roughly a third are on display in his office, taking up an entire wall. (The rest are on display at home or in storage.) His favorites include the architecturally evocative Bakelite Electrolarm models; the Telart 4F5, with its classic deco style; and the Paul Frankl-designed Moderne 431. He's also personalized his automobile license plate to read "Telechrn" (North Carolina plates allow only eight characters.)

Guttentag says he has reached the limits of collecting Telechrons. "Every now and then I'll go on eBay and see if there's anything I don't have, but eBay is a mixed blessing. You can see what's out there, but it removes the thrill of the hunt. For me, that was always part of what made it enjoyable."

Although Telechrons are known for their accuracy, Guttentag keeps only three of his office collection models plugged in. They are strategically placed around the room so that no matter where he is, he can inconspicuously glance at the time while conversing with a visitor. ("Checking your watch while talking to someone is rude," he notes.)

A recent visitor wondered whether Guttentag saw any irony in the fact that he collects timepieces and the fact that time drags for the tens of thousands of high-school seniors anxiously waiting to hear from his office during admissions season. "I never thought of that," he says. "But what's ironic is that I have a really difficult time being on time."

Without looking at his watch, he wraps up the conversation and heads to his next appointment—late. 


Margaret Riley: Globes

Globetrotter: Orbs of all shapes and sizes make up Riley's collection. Les Todd

If Margaret Riley's life had a theme song, she says, it would be "The Long and Winding Road." From a summer trip to Europe when she was in high school to a pivotal Peace Corps stint in Colombia to earning graduate degrees in intercultural communication and international affairs, Riley has embraced the unexpected twists and turns of a life devoted to being a citizen of the world. As associate dean and director of Duke's Global Education Office for Undergraduates, formerly the study-abroad office, Riley now oversees initiatives that help students embark on their own lifelong journeys of international engagement.

Riley's peripatetic adventures began when she was sixteen. Her mother inherited money from her brother and decided to use part of it to send Riley abroad for the summer. "I'm the fourth of six children," she says, "and of all the kids in my family, my mom decided to send me. Ever since then, my life has been different than what I'd imagined."

Today, from her office in the renovated Smith Warehouse complex near East Campus, Riley is surrounded by evidence of her international travels. Dozens of globes occupy nearly every surface. An ostrich egg embellished with an Old World map is perched on a metal stand. Two others float in the air, held in place by electromagnetic fields.

There are globe ornaments, globe golf balls and Hackey Sacks, globe clocks, an astrological brass globe, a Waterford crystal globe, and Riley's favorite, a standing floor globe in which each country is crafted from a different hand-carved, semi-precious gemstone.

"There was never one moment when I realized I had a collection," says Riley. "I would look for them on my travels, and then people started bringing them to me." To her, a globe's value is less important than its novelty. She's acquired globes from throughout the U.S. (from Kansas City to Kalamazoo), during her international travels (from Prague to Beijing), and even on routine trips to Costco or a Hallmark store. She found a lovely pair of wooden globe bookends at a garage sale for five dollars and a spinning crystal globe at a Virginia truck stop.

When Riley considers her globe collection, she is reminded of the people and places she's encountered in the fifty countries she's visited (so far), the cities and cultures she's not yet explored, and the metaphors the spheres represent. She reaches onto a shelf and takes down a Plexiglas rectangle filled with a globe suspended in oil and water. When the cube is shaken, the liquids mix together and then begin to separate. As they do, the heavier oil causes the globe to turn.

She retrieves another globe, a puzzle about the size of a tennis ball. The delicate orb retains its round shape only because the interconnected pieces hold one another in place. Riley gently rolls it in the palm of her hand.

Art smart: Byrne in his Los Angeles home with portrait by John Sonsini. Edward Carreòn

Blake Byrne: Art

Blake Byrne's eyes light up as he talks about several recent acquisitions to his collection of contemporary art—South Africa-born Marlene Dumas' "very sexy, not pornographic" image of a part of the female anatomy, Spaniard Javier Perez's bronze sculpture of a tree trunk, and Chinese artist He Sen's photorealistic painting of a woman seductively smoking a cigarette.

"I can't wait to get the Sen in my house," says Byrne '57.

Byrne is well known in the art world, often appearing on lists of top collectors, including ARTNews' 200 most important American collectors in 2001 and Art & Antiques' "100 Top Collectors Who Are Making A Difference" in 2007. His collection includes a who's who of artists from the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries—Jasper Johns, Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, Claes Oldenburgas well as up-and-coming artists who have gone on to wider acclaim, such as Nayland Blake, Jim Shaw, and Kehinde Wiley.

After graduating from Duke, Byrne earned an M.B.A. from Columbia University and entered the broadcasting field, eventually becoming partner of Hearst Argyle Communications and, later, president and general manager of KCAL. With his former wife, he put together a modest collection of original art.

But Byrne's art education began in earnest in 1986 when he was living in the midst of the vibrant art scene in midtown Manhattan. It was a boom time for the art market, and Byrne began reading avidly and visiting galleries to learn more about contemporary art. "One of the galleries I would pop into on Saturday afternoons was Jack Tilton's," he says. "I remember telling him that I felt as though I would never know enough about art to collect it. He suggested I attend Art Basel [in Basel, Switzerland] that June to see what I liked."

For three days, Byrne walked through the citywide international art show, writing down the names of artists and works that caught his eye. At the end of those three days, he shared his list with Tilton, who helped winnow his selections. With a self-imposed budget of $50,000, Byrne took the leap, buying six works, all but one of which he still owns. "That experience immediately made me fall in love with collecting art," he says.

He began learning everything he could about the contemporary art market and purchased thousands of paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media works. Over the years, he has made significant contributions of artwork from his collection to Duke and serves as chair of the Nasher Museum of Art's board of advisers.

Unlike collectors who see artwork primarily as a strategic investment, Byrne says he must be energized and excited by a piece to consider purchasing it. His advice for beginning collectors is to embark on a path similar to the one he's taken. "Start going to galleries with your friends," he says, "and only buy what your heart tells you you have to have."

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