Renowned folk artist Elayne Goodman’s pointelle work is displayed around a quote — “Art Is Everything, Art Is Anything, Art Is Something, Art Is My Thing” — in the home of Smyrna’s cultural doyenne, Ellie Wolf.
The house is built on the land of the original Aunt Fanny’s Cabin, and Wolf, who represented many known designers (Christian Dior) and many up-and-coming young designers, knows her way around style.
Wolf’s extensive collections range from Mississippi folk to the boldness of Rio de Janeiro, combined with European artists blending magically with local wood sculptor Michael Gilmartin. Glass, wood, watercolor, stained glass — all come to roost in Cobb County.
Jaffe: Why Smyrna?
Wolf: After living in various Atlanta locations and nearing retirement, I wanted to be part of a developing community. Smyrna is now a vibrant city of 50,000.
Jaffe: Did your love of art begin with fashion?
Wolf: My first passion was collecting paperweights. As an accessories representative, I developed a special relationship with designer Patrick Kelly. He designed hats, belts and dresses for me, which I eventually donated to a permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art.
Jaffe: How did you develop an affinity for Mississippi art, which is so in contrast to your South American and European collection?
Wolf: I met Elayne Goodman (fifth-generation resident of Columbus, Miss.). Her creativity combines everyday objects such as dice, coins, pickup sticks, buttons, chess pieces and spools of thread in intertwining detail. One of my fondest memories is my daughter driving me to Mississippi on Mother’s Day to select this large piece based around a Nubian bust. She reconstructs everyday objects such as vinegar jars and globes into unique collectibles with vibrant personality
Also, Maurice Cook (who did all the pieces on this vertical wall) is from Birmingham, Miss.; “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” is so compelling. This is a depiction of his white clapboard country church, which now serves as his studio.
I don’t care if an artist is famous. If something strikes me emotionally or sets a peaceful mood, then I buy what I like. I bought a Lino Tagliapietra glass before I knew who he was.
My favorite Brazilian artist is Ney Cardoso (mostly impressionistic beach and water scenes). He was a cubist who only painted while listening to Brazilian music, so you can see that happiness emerge. He didn’t speak English, nor I Portuguese, but we perfectly communicated.
I collect American glassblower Hank Murta Adams, who is known for his head sculptures “who wear their nerves outside their bodies.” He also floats industrial debris scraps inside. The orange illusion oil in the entrance with the modern dancing figures is by Ricardo Siccuro.
In the (American) Fernandez piece, you see the red trout jumping around Japanese script, blending a variety of cultures.
Around the main fireplace is a Phyllis Sloane watercolor — a not-so-subtle tribute to Rembrandt — and Livio Seguso, still living in Murano, who did “Three Variations” in pink glass on the fireplace. Don’t attempt to lift them — deceptively heavy.
Jaffe: Have you bought any impulse-driven eclectic pieces?
Wolf: Ambling though Venice, I found this porcelain nun with her black crow. I became obsessed and had to remap my steps through the canals to claim her. I have some junk shop treasures like this 8-foot lamp, where I had to make a huge shade to fit. And this beige chair is from a 1970 yard sale.
The ornate white chair is called “A Thrown for the Very Special” by Mary Lou Higgins. In Thailand I bought this teak/silk elephant daybed that had to be shipped in a gigantic container, so we filled it with huge sculptures. It those days, it cost next to nothing.
Jaffe: Do you collect any local artists?
Wolf: I am a fan and friend of local wood furniture designer Michael Gilmartin. In addition to this chair, which is a hand-carved marine fir plywood rocker, Michael also made the master bedroom desk out of fused stained glass from the windows of the original St. Joseph’s Hospital. His works of art are in the permanent collections of many museums, including the High Museum of Atlanta, Brooklyn Museum and the Mint Museum. The glass sculpture over the kitchen fireplace is by the head of the pottery department at Callanwolde, Glenn Dair.
Jaffe: What’s the most unusual thing you have?
Wolf: The Ivan Bailey quartz is a forged metal city. We can open the little trapdoor here and pull out Superman as a baby. Gilmartin did the base.
Jaffe: Totally crazy. Do you have any Jewish artists?
Wolf: My Ben Benn oils are quite collectible. … He was a Russian-American (born as Ben Rosenberg in 1884 in Kamenets Podolsk) known as a true subject painter of modern still lifes in the ’50s and ’60s.
Jaffe: What’s next for you?
Wolf: I will always admire talented people. I am looking for ways to bring culture to the forefront in Smyrna. A city is often judged by what it produces artistically.
Jaffe: Yes, Aunt Fanny’s would be proud sharing all of this! I remember the squash pudding, the creaking wood floors, and someone from Mississippi singing “This Little Light of Mine” on the piano.
Gallery: All Photos by Duane Stork