Cory and Alan Begner have been together since 10th grade at Midtown’s Grady High School. Now they practice law together; but who knew they were avid art collectors? Nothing is banal about the Begners, whose First Amendment legal practice spans the KKK, strip clubs, the Gambino crime family, the Gold Club, and Hosea Williams. Now picture them driving to New Mexican Indian reservations for native pottery, searching the Pont Neuf in Paris for watercolors, daily winding a grandfather clock from the 1700s, and amassing Southern pottery and folk paintings.
One whole wall of the Begners’ living room features a 7-foot-by-12-foot billboard advertising the 1929 opening of the Fox Theatre. Cory rescued the silk-screened work in panels and had it reassembled and framed.
“I never ask if something will work in our house. If I like it, it just does. Can you name a color that you don’t see in here?”
It’s an assortment of diverse styles and periods spanning a wide range of artistic media, all lovingly collected one piece at a time.
Marcia: Elaborate on your passion for pottery.
Cory: I’m especially attracted to American folk and Native American art. Alan and I love to drive through New Mexico and Arizona, finding specific pieces that we can acquire directly from artists in various pueblos such as Navajo, Hopi, Acoma and Santa Clara, as well as from galleries and trading posts in the area. The Native Americans use clay dug from their own land to build pots by hand-coiling, then fire their pots in outdoor wood-fired kilns, then smooth and polish the vessels with stones. Finally, they may decorate a pot with slip made from watered-down clay and tinted with various plant materials. So each piece is unique. I especially love it when I can find older pots, which are hard to come by.
We also collect Southeastern folk pottery, including face jugs by artists such as Marie Rogers, the Meadors family, Steve Turpin, the Hewell family, Rodney Leftwich, and the Crocker family, most from North Georgia.
We treasure our Inuit and Northwestern pieces such as the serpentine and soapstone works displayed on the table behind the sofa. The intricately woven basket is made from baleen, which comes from the mouth of a baleen whale, and walrus ivory (legally sourced from the tusks that they shed).
Marcia: What are the most unusual pieces you have?
Cory: The 18th century grandfather clock at the entrance to the dining room was my parents’ engagement gift to Alan. My multi-talented mom restored it. Alan winds it every day.
Jennifer’s Glassworks helped me design the stained glass front door and panel in the art nouveau style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I also immediately fell for the old stained glass window featuring a country cottage, which hangs in front of a sunroom window. We found it in an antique mall in Blue Ridge, Ga. The hand-painted front entrance chandelier was created by artist Connie Sweet whom I met at the old Piedmont Road flea market.
Alan: I surprised Cory with this huge porcelain serving platter that was already encased in a cocktail table. I’m particularly fond of this little painting we found in Paris in which the artist quoted a Paul Verlaine poem that translates:
“You swore that it was a lie,
And your look lied itself,
Flamed like an ongoing moving fire,
And with your own voice you said ‘I love you’”
Marcia: What artists do you collect?
Alan: By far, my favorite is “Four Players” by Lori-Gene (recently deceased) in the master bedroom. She was known for paintings inspired by music. It was said that she could “see sound.” She worked in pencil and often created her drawings as she sat amid the performers. We watched her do this with the Emory Wind Ensemble. I love the interaction between the musicians and instruments. See the detail of the cellos.
The original John Lennon drawing is pretty cool, “John and Yoko 1977.”
Cory: On a trip to the Florida Panhandle, we discovered Woodie Long, the Southern Alabama son of a sharecropper who began as a house painter. We have several of his paintings, some on wood, others on canvas or paper, all done in acrylics. Woodie’s paintings mostly depict scenes from his childhood memories.
Marcia: How would you describe your dining room?
Cory: The country French celery green sideboard is from Highlands, North Carolina. The crystal sconces are from a flea market, as is the glass trumpet-flower chandelier. The various objects displayed include old French oyster plates, turn-of-the-century American pottery, and old country French Henriot Quimper pottery. This painting is a colorful 1995 Patricia Erickson oil from Costa Rica and the samovar was brought over from Russia by my great-grandmother.
Marcia: Are you done collecting?
Cory: In addition to art, I collect rocks, shells, lava – natural reminders from beautiful places like the Galapagos Islands. This blue and red tile from Istanbul is a unique treasure. I can’t help myself. A collector is never done. I buy what I can’t stand NOT to buy.
Alan: As long as our cats China and Anabelle enjoy jumping and relaxing all over everything in here, I’m content. Once in a while, we hear a crash!