Julian: We’ve been in the art business for 50 years, so this is not a typical situation as far as collecting. I’m the fourth generation, if you can believe it, and our son-in-law Adam is the fifth generation. This all started in 1902 as S.K. Friedman. She sold picture frames and art supplies, and she was an artist. Her son married my mother’s aunt, and that’s how we got pulled into the business. Jean and I, when we were dating in college, used to go to the Georgia Museum. I thought I was impressing her with my knowledge of art back in those days. We started very early on in our relationship enjoying art together. I certainly tried other things, but I worked in the family business from a very young age. My mother and father worked together, and then Jean and I had the good fortune of being able to work together, and it was very nice. We were downtown and Savannah was just such an amazing place to be.
Jean: Friedman’s was an institution. John Berendt came in and said he was writing a book — we thought it was going to be a cookbook, or a travel book — and he said, “y’all are in it!” Anyone who came to town eventually came to Friedman’s. I always said it was like a Broadway play where all these interesting people came in and out.
Julian: In the early days, the South was a good place for people who wanted to get out of the cold weather, and Savannah had a charm about it, so big-time artists spent time here. There was always an artsy slice of the population, and there was a welcoming, broad assortment of people, so that was nice. It’s a kick now to see paintings at auction houses, and when you turn it around on the back it says Friedman’s Art Store. We framed it in the late ’40s or something, and we can date it from the shape of the sticker, or the color or the wording.
ON TASTE AND TODDLERS
Julian: Your tastes change. Occasionally you’re more worried about what other people think, and you get swayed by that, and if you hire a designer sometimes they’re right on the mark but it’s just their opinion. Jean and I, at this point we have confidence. If we like it, it’s ok with us. We have a [Joan] Miró etching that’s been in my family for about 50 years—
Jean: Our 4-year-old grandson, Derrick, had a visitor over; she was 5. And she looked at that Miró and said, “Did Derrick do that?”
Julian: Which Miró would take as a compliment.
ON A SLOW-ART MOVEMENT
Julian: We just moved into this house 8 or 9 months ago, so we’re still selecting things, and everything here has a personal connection with us, in addition to visual appeal. There are some very well-known artists represented here, and then there’s some artwork that even I don’t know the names of the people who made it. We tell people, don’t move into your new house and think you have to have everything on the walls in 30 days. If you do, you’ll regret it over time. We come in here, and instead of these pieces being like doorstops or things you never pay any attention to, we look at them. We’ll just be sitting there having a cup of coffee or a drink or something and we’ll look at a painting on the wall and say, we’ve owned that for 30 years, 40 years, whatever, and we still like it. But there’s a real variety. We’ve had some of this painted expressly for this house. We knew we were going to have a recessed niche in one room, and we asked a very close friend of ours, Michael Carnahan, to do a big, contemporary, very colorful piece. I told him I liked Frank Stella’s work, and some different influences, and this is what he came up with, and we just love it. It’s not because it’s a very famous museum piece, but every time we come in here we see it and it makes us feel good.
ON BUILDING A HOUSE FOR THEIR COLLECTION
Jean: You’ll never believe it, but before this, we lived right at the end of the block
Julian: In this house, the walls are gray and very neutral, very clean. It really features the art. We built tall ceilings and installed art lights – we were prepared to hang once we decided what went where. So many of these things I bought to sell, and then I showed it to Jean and here it is hanging up in our house. What this stage of life and this house mean to us is a chance to throw caution to the wind and do things in a more contemporary vein. We had many of these same pieces hanging in a very traditional house before we built this, but this one we knew we were going to build clean and simple. We got rid of all our knick-knacks, and anything that didn’t have significant meaning to us is gone.
Jean: When we were going through things, we asked our children: Do you want silver? No. Do you want china? No. Do you want crystal? No. Where would they put it?
ON ALWAYS LOOKING, BUT NOT ALWAYS BUYING
Julian: You don’t have to buy something and own it to appreciate it. Wherever we go, we visit museums and such, and it’s not a chore, it’s just a pleasure. We still look for things. We still have wall space. We’re judiciously guarding it to make sure we get something special. We don’t want to fill it up just to be filling it up. We think you really ought to fall in love with a painting so that you can live with it over the years, have a little bit of knowledge about it, sometimes a direct connection with the artist if it’s a contemporary piece. You just need to choose your pieces carefully, make sure they say something to you and hopefully continue to say something to you — that’s what we like best about living with art and the things that we’ve collected. We have something as new as 8 months ago and then a few pieces that are 40 or 45 years old. Those are the ones that stuck. And the ones that no longer mean anything to us, we’re able to donate to an auction. We’ve curated along the way, and that’s how it should be.
Julian: It’s wonderful to know that hand to hand, you’ve supported an artist. You’ve voted with your space and your pocketbook to support them. It’s a very difficult field, and art is not always the first place people put money. You go through a recession and everything goes down, but the last thing to come back in my opinion is the fine art market. My son put it best when he said, if people didn’t sacrifice for the arts, there wouldn’t be any art. So it’s up to us to help them along, and you get back so much more than you put into it.
ON DEVELOPING A PALATE
Julian: You really want to try to find something that speaks to you. That way you’re not worried about reselling it. You’re not buying it wondering how much it’s going to be worth. People say art is a great investment, but I would think it would depend on how much you paid for it, and then you have to be willing to part with it if you’re going to strike while the iron is hot. With me and Jean, it’s not that our taste is exactly the same, though it’s pretty close in artwork, but I can tell what she’ll like and what she won’t like. To get that much enjoyment from a piece of art continually for years and years is just extraordinary. There are very few things in life you can say that about.
— As told to Savannah Magazine [Note: This interview has been condensed]