When it comes to collecting art, there’s an assumption that a lot of money is needed to get started. Furniture designer and carpenter Jacob Anderson proves otherwise. Following a long tradition of artists who trade art among themselves, Anderson barters his skills, space, and furniture for artworks that he loves.
Originally from Maine, Anderson developed his passion for art while living in a heatless warehouse in downtown Boston. Only 18 years old at the time, Anderson and his roommate opened an impromptu gallery highlighting art by friends. Although he loved the artwork they showed, he couldn’t afford to buy it. Fortunately for Anderson, his friends needed furniture and were willing to exchange their work for unique pieces he found on the streets. Now 32, Anderson still barters furniture for art, but he now trades furniture pieces that he has designed and made. Since 2003, bartering has enabled Anderson to collect more than 30 artworks, including pieces by Atlanta artists Jordan Stubbs, Addison Adams, and Kris Pilcher.
In a conversation with artist Tori Tinsley, with whom Anderson has also traded, the collector discusses his collection process, some trades currently in the works, and plans for his ever-growing art collection.
Jacob Anderson: I was trying to get into set building for TV and film. Some people at the Goat Farm had learned that I was a carpenter and so they offered me pretty good pay to be at the Goat Farm. I helped build things for Elevate ATL and became an integral part of carpentry at the Goat Farm. I was getting a lot of work, but then the Goat Farm just didn’t have the money to sustain me.
TT: What are you working on now?
JA: If we’re talking Wrong Studio, which is just my furniture, it’s a production house for furniture and prototyping. When I go to this studio space, I want to make things for my friends or for me. My other company is Utility Services, which is for my large design stuff. It’s for the restaurant Bon Ton, Dolby, and all the interior design firms that use us. Utility Services is like my brain. And my hands are in Wrong Studio. And my heart is everywhere. [Laughs]
TT: Wrong Studio seems to be more tied to your art collecting. When did that get going? When did that idea click?
JA: So before Atlanta, I ran a little art gallery in Boston with a friend who was an artist. We were in a little warehouse downtown. We weren’t really supposed to live there and it didn’t have heat or hot water. It was before that neighborhood got hot. We heard there were going to be studios opening in our little warehouse district, and we were like, shit, let’s open it up. It stayed open for about a year and a half. We showed a lot of artists, though I couldn’t afford to buy their art.
TT: Who were these artists?
JA: Ryan Wade, Michael Abromowitz, a lot of MFA kids from that era. We kind of knew them from the punk scene. Michael was my roommate and an amazing artist. I was going to trade one of my favorite guitars for a piece of his but I never got it because I told him Atlanta wasn’t going to last and I’d be back in Boston in 6 months. So hold onto it for me. And then I never came back. I love that dude. Great artist. We sold some art for friends and ended up just trying to pay the rent that way. Having people up all the time and renting the space out for events and stuff. It was Wild West style, just dumpster diving and art sellin’.
TT: In Atlanta, how do you find artists with whom you want to trade?
JA: Going out and going to shows and some studio visits here and there. At the Goat Farm, I’ll pop in and if something looks really good, I’ll stop and talk to that artist. It doesn’t happen too often because I don’t get out that much. I don’t have much leisure time. I have a trade coming up with Abigail [Justman], a clock for something of hers. And I’m trading with Jordan [Stubbs] again. He wants this crazy end table. I really want to experiment with mixing stained wood and Plexiglas so that you don’t see the Plexi until you turn on the light. I want the nightstand to glow.
TT: It sounds like trading gives you new challenges to work on?
JA: For sure. And necessity is what I love designing for. I get an idea of what’s needed from the person instead of saying, oh, I have these tables. I love to hear things from them. Like Kiki [Kirstin Mitchell] said said she needed a meditation stool. She did a studio visit and saw a bunch of my slabs, including this one, and it really is perfect for what she wants. I just have to design chunky little feet for it. It’s a fun and therapeutic way to experiment and grow as a designer, instead of your client telling you they need this crazy thing by this crazy date, you know?
TT: How do you decide on what to trade? Is there anything you found that is a pattern of sorts?
JA: No, there are no rules. With Jordan, the first time we traded some art, it was just to help him create some sculptures he was doing. He needed my help and knowledge of carpentry and my tools and my scraps and stuff like that for his [MINT] show at the Flatiron. It’s not like I have to make something to trade with an artist. I wouldn’t want someone to come up and say I’ll trade ya’ a piece of art for a bathroom renovation. I would never do that. But for things like, I don’t have the tools but I have this amazing vision for a piece, and I need help doing it, I’ll definitely jump at that. That’s cool. Plus, I love teaching. I love people being in the shop who don’t know what they’re doing. I love that.