Deborah Buck is an alchemist; a woman who juggles a busy career as a mother, wife, artist, gallery owner and passionate collector. Somehow Deborah manages to do all this with ease and to still find time to paint, for she is an artist first and all else follows. In the heady days of the 80s art frenzy, Buck had her work highly touted and showed with multiple galleries. It is with this painter’s eye that she curates her own collection and that of friends and clients while managing her eponymous gallery – Buck House. She is one of the last of the great aquisitors. With one foot firmly rooted in the past and the other in the future, she has boldly left her mark on the art scene in New York, and with her travels, globally. Half Auntie Mame and half Desperately Seeking Susan, Deborah is larger than life in her quest for adventure and her indefatigable spirit. Her laugh is infectious and although I began our interview in rather somber mood, after the first five minutes I was laughing as much as Deborah, whose bad days must be everyone else’s good days.
Eric Cohler: Who exactly is Deborah Buck – no doubt an international lady of mystery and intrigue!
Deborah Buck: She’s an artist (and an aspiring Mata Hari-Ha!) I am first and foremost an artist with Fine Arts training; a chef, television personality, business owner, gallery curator and all around creative person. Just a painter or sculptor would be too limiting. Deborah’s credo – “one should never limit oneself.”
EC: Where are from originally? I have a feeling that we’re not talking Kansas.
DB: Baltimore. Many of the greatest creative people of the 20th century hail from that city; the Cone sisters, Billy Baldwin, Wallis Simpson, John Waters… I came to New York wanting to be a painter and found that this town was big, but that I was bigger still; at least an my ambition. I wanted to be a painter 24/7. I constantly needed for my mind to be creatively fed and engaged. New York was a challenge that I readily accepted.
EC: And it paid off.
DB: In many ways. I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time and my work was included in shows at the Blum and Dom Gallery, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Here in New York, my work was exhibited at the Bronx Museum.
EC: So you never had to pay the piper and suffer for your art?
DB: Well, I did have to work (laughs) and spent ten years in animated display division of Disney where I paid my bills by creating animated characters.
EC: Then I suppose there was the usual fairy tale romance where girl meets boy and them baby makes three?
DB: Something like that. I met “Mr. Buck” when we were both young and ambitious but somehow he was able to get me to say yes without equivocating. That was the easiest decision that I’ve ever made.
EC: And the collecting bug?
DB: In the blood; passed from generation to generation. My mother is a “junkaholic” and I’ve inherited her collecting gene, although I am now a bit more discerning. I don’t buy junk, I collect objects. It was different when I was younger, then I’d find a mirror for less than a dollar and I’d buy it. I also frequented the thrift shops along Third Avenue in New York and was able to assemble an amazing wardrobe. You should see what I found. Women in New York tend to wear an outfit for one season and then out it goes. If I learned nothing else at all during this period it was the caveat for all collectors, whether it’s gently worn couture clothing or a Picasso, always go for the best that you can afford. This is my cardinal rule.
EC: And the cooking gig, the TV show?
DB: I became a chef, loved to cook and made it a career. It took off and before I knew it I was sitting in hair and make-up primping for the Today Show. But that gets old fast. You sit around and wait a lot. I also wrote a cookbook. This was all fun, but not gratifying; there was no “tooth” to it; it fell flat rather quickly. What I craved was history. I wanted to synthesize my love of collecting with my art. Thus Buck House was born. Plus I get to travel a whole lot more now.
EC: I knew that you were a spy. The perfect cover, artist and antique dealer…containers going back and forth.
DB: Watch it buster. Buck House is serious business. I love what I’m doing.
EC: Which is what?
DB: Being a style guru. I act as curator and as such have the rare opportunity to travel to Asia, South America and throughout the country several times a year. I find unusual pieces at auctions and from private dealers and collectors around the world. I love jewelry. Recently I’ve begun to sell estate jewelry and to design some of my own.
EC: And the two male Buck’s in your life?
DB: Chris, my husband, and THE Mr. Buck, is involved in a number of philanthropic causes and Sam, Master Buck is in middle school. While Chris shares my love of collecting and travel – he’s in Africa now – Sam wants a minimalist look for his room. He actually removed all of the shelves and most of the toys so that his room only has his bed, desk, books and his latest Lego masterpiece. Maybe he’ll be a sculptor.
EC: When did you open Buck House?
DB: I opened Buck House right after 9/11. Most people thought I was nuts, but I knew that it was now or never and being a risk taker I just dove right in. I admit that it was scary at first, but it all worked out rather quickly. Now I have opened The Gallery at Buck House in response for the clamor of More, More, More; encore. The original Buck House is a tiny jewel box of a store on Madison Avenue in the Carnegie Hill section of New York and the gallery is just up the street. It’s five times the size and allows me to showcase much larger pieces as well as being an amazing venue for my monthly “salons.”
DB: Literary, darling; art for art sake and all that stuff. We have readings, art openings, lectures and lots of fun. I like to get a buzz going to challenge people’s perception of collecting and engaging them in the process. What I can’t abide is anything too static.
EC: Well said..
DB: For me, it’s all about balance, line, color, space – creating the tableau, of one narrative element or kernel running through all that I do. And this holds true as much for my paintings and drawings as for the objects and the art that I sell through Buck House.
EC: It’s all about he mix, then?
DB: Absolutely. A ceramic 60s abstraction paired with a Ming Dynasty figure with a Franz Kline as the backdrop. Pure perfection. However, never be afraid to deaccesion. Nature abhors a vacuum. Nature always provides an opportunity to learn about something else.
EC: As an alchemist I assume that you can make it happen.
DB: Just look around…my world is a veritable dialogue across periods.
EC: Are you your own best customer?
DB: Yes, but that’s our secret.
EC: OK, Mata Hari.
DB: Shhhhh. Keep it under your hat.
Eric Cohler, president of Eric Cohler Inc., holds a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation from the Columbian School of Architecture. He won a Designer of the year Award in 1998 and in 2000 the D&D Building in New York recognized him as one of the 26 leading designers in the U.S. Eric has appeared on CBS Morning and Evening News and CNN Style and he is a featured designer on the Home & Garden TV Network.