- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

A passion for collecting things takes many forms, one of which has to be the form and space in which a collector shows off his passion.
Does the collector make the items public or regard them as more of a private insider's game? And when, if ever, is an interior designer called upon to help in displaying the prized items?
Some of the unusual pieces of art and objects that area collectors have taken to heart and to home have been given new life in unusual settings, often in ingenious ways.
Al Jirikowic is an actor and owner ("Big Chief") of Chief Ike's Mambo Room in Adams Morgan whose passion of the moment is for Shriner hats, the distinctive dome-shaped, tasseled headgear worn by members of a men's philanthropic organization known formally as the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, a Masonic order.
Mr. Jirikowic, a burly man with a wickedly ironic eye, is no mystic, nor has he ever thought of becoming a Shriner. "I'm a complete outsider," he says. "I've never been to one of their [Shriner] reunions. I'm more interested in the imagery. And I got interested in fraternal organizations in an age when men joined things, made themselves silly and had fun smoking cigars and drinking and helping others while doing so."
He finds the hats "funny and goofy," which suits his theatrical bent. He says the hats reflect his personality only in their ability to make him smile.
"Being silly is very important," he adds.
Three rooms in the Ontario Road NW apartment he shares with Susan Valois, a collector of red-and-white enamel cookware, hold shelves full of 200 Shriner hats, some going back to the 1890s, that he has been amassing for the past 10 years. Mr. Jirikowic has other interests as well. Colorful ceramic and glass electrical and telephone line insulators rest in a row on a window shelf in the dining room. He likes their sculptural shapes. Vintage electric fans sit unplugged throughout the living room, where a modern ceiling fan whirls slowly over funky furniture and artwork done mainly by friends.
Earlier in life, Mr. Jirikowic went in for stamps, coins and trains as well as bowling shirts all conventional passions by comparison and easier to track down.
To add to the collection ideally he would like a sample hat from each of the Shriner temples or chapters he haunts estate sales and checks out sources on the Internet. He has a craftsman's appreciation of their origins and can comment knowledgeably about various fabrics, styles and adornments used on the maroon-and-black wool fezzes.
"It's Shriner iconography," he says. "You can smell the tobacco and alcohol in them. That probably helps keep the moths away."

While Mr. Jirikowic identifies with his collecting hobby much as an actor lives through a role, Anthony Podesta, a government relations counselor, enjoys having a separate life as a serious collector of fine art most recently in the field of color photography and video.
"The word passion isn't strong enough. It's addictive behavior," he muses while seated in his downtown office, surrounded by four walls all containing mostly outsized framed photographs that bear no relation to his professional work. It's as though two sides of the man are on display simultaneously, although it would be difficult to resort to any cheap-shot psychology to interpret his personal taste.
"It's an informed addiction," he notes. "It's fascinating to spend my professional life in one arena and to have a private life. I get interested in certain artists and in helping advance their carreers. I have 25 artists whose work I'm passionate about and care about." All but one is a living artist; the oldest, aged 90, died only recently.
None of them and none of his artistic interests is connected in any way to his work, he maintains, although what he does on behalf of artists is very nearly a full-time job in itself. Pieces in his collection rotate constantly to galleries and museums all over the world.
A member of the board of trustees of the Hirshhorn Museum, Mr. Podesta recently finished remodeling a new home in Falls Church around his ever-changing collection after outgrowing his Washington home. He estimates he owns more than 700 pieces, whose comings and goings are supervised largely by his assistant, Karen Lewis.
The duplex headquarters of Podesta/Mattoon, where he is chief executive and chairman, isn't conventional by any count. "Other people in Washington have walls filled with themselves and politicians. I'd rather look at art," he says in a characteristically wry manner.
Apart from the computer communications central the furnishings in his personal office, a relatively small, low-lit room (to protect framed photographs from harmful sun rays) consist of a few casual tables and chairs and a large marble basin sculpture on the floor by former Washingtonian Elizabeth Turk. One's eyes focus immediately on the walls, filled at the moment with a series of outsized images produced by American artist Anna Gaskell that were on show for a while at the Pompidou Center in Paris.
The entrance lobby, stairwell, conference rooms and connecting corridors are covered with photographs and, at least in one case, a painting (of naturalist Charles Darwin's study) so true to life that it resembles a photograph. A sculpture by the well-known Yugoslav-born Marina Abramovic is positioned temporarily in a hall between the restrooms, resting up before an upcoming retrospective show abroad. It consists of five strands of untreated Korean hair projecting from copper casings placed above four large crystal rocks on the floor.
A book, "Caring for Your Collections," sits on the coffee table next to the receptionist. The walls closest to the elevators are covered with photographs of islands and lighthouses off Iceland's coast taken by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. A nearby conference room features large photographic portraits of the Korean women's basketball team by Sharon Lockhart, an American. Other artists are Brazilian, Russian and Japanese.
The collection began by accident while Mr. Podesta was on the staff of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's presidential campaign. "When he cut our salaries drastically, he got a bunch of artists to donate work," he relates. "Instead of paying us in dollars, they paid us in art. So Ted Kennedy is responsible for my collection. That was 20 years ago. I've been doing it much more dramatically since then."

For Joe Pigg, senior counsel for the American Bankers Association, an interest in the art-deco era, and especially old radios, doesn't seem totally out of harmony with his day job. He owns 40 radios, a majority of them displayed on a set of converted Ikea shelving in his 1,000-square-foot Dupont Circle duplex condo, which is almost completely furnished in articles and artifacts of the period from the 1920s up to 1950. A half-dozen have overflowed into his downtown office.
Whenever he travels for work and has a spare moment, he amuses himself by looking for more. "The most colorful ones are from the 1950s," he says. "Mostly I just think they are fun. I have tried to limit my acquisitions now to buy only one each year, with the idea that I can take it home and plug it in to listen to Christmas tunes on it. You don't find them easily except on Web sites, and they can be expensive. The fun is getting off the beaten track to find them."
One of his favorites is a Crosley model from the 1950s that he found in a thrift store for $10.
The passion began when he was growing up in rural Nebraska as the youngest child in his family. "I suspect part of me is still trying to catch up with what came before," he says with a laugh.
He remembers when he was "maybe 4 or 5 years old, and an aunt and uncle gave me my first radio with the old tubes in it, probably dating from the '40s, a little brown wooden table radio model I still have. I love to tinker around with things, and that whole sort of machine-age period is fascinating to me."
The passion spread to the point where he has turned his apartment into a period piece of ingenious design, much of it crafted by hand.

A similar influence from childhood convinced Baltimore businessman Todd Hays to specialize in Elton John paraphernalia. He estimates he owns 100 different items, including 25 pieces of band equipment and a "Pinball Wizard" machine named after one of Mr. John's songs written at the height of his popularity in the late 1970s.
"When I was a kid, my dad listened to Elton John. I always thought he was the best entertainer out there," Mr. Hays says. "So many performers are manufactured these days. I like him because he is wacky to the core. I'm still looking for a pair of his sunglasses and one of his pianos." Mr. Hays is, or has been, a collector of tiny hand-carved airplanes as well.
Both collections are housed in the basement "entertainment center" of the Hays family's Hunt Valley, Md., home. Mia Pefinis Jensen, of Baltimore's Nouveau Interiors Ltd., was called upon to integrate furnishings along with the still-expanding number of artifact accessories. She in turn brought in an architect with experience in creating bars and restaurants because the room was to serve several functions and generations at once.
"He wanted to make it masculine but not so much so that his wife, Whitney, would feel uncomfortable there," Ms. Jensen recalls. "Attractive but not boring, so the guys playing pool and his sons watching movies could all have a good time."
Washington designer Joe Davis had a completely different challenge helping arrange a Potomac client's large collection of family photographs in a master bedroom's sitting area. The trick was not to have the venue look cluttered. Mr. Davis solved the problem by installing three bands of painted wood on the walls to hold the frames, ensuring that his client has a clear view of each and every one.


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