Meet the Trust: Randy Schrimsher

Randy at the Fall 2014 Trust Symposium in Natchez.
Randy at the Fall 2014 Trust Symposium in Natchez.

Members of the Decorative Arts Trust come from many backgrounds: scholars, students, professionals from both the museum and the trade, as well as amateur enthusiasts whose interests in history take a more object-oriented approach. We’re particularly fortunate to include in our ranks many members whose long-term involvement has made them an essential part of the Trust’s growth and development. Randy and Kelly Schrimsher are familiar names and faces for program regulars with the Trust, but back in the organization’s early days, Randy, our current president of the Board of Governors, was quite literally a stranger who walked in off the street.

Randy was not always a collector, nor did he grow up in a collecting household. In fact, as a young college graduate, he was merely looking to furnish a recently purchased house with furniture that wouldn’t immediately depreciate in value. While doing due-diligence research in The Magazine Antiques in 1981, Randy saw an ad for an upcoming Decorative Arts Trust symposium in Camden, South Carolina. He decided to attend and encountered what he describes as “a who’s who of lecturers,” including Wendell Garrett, Jonathan Fairbanks, Joe Kindig, Harold Sack, and Frank Horton. Dean Failey’s lecture “Dollars and Sense: Collecting American Furniture” struck a particular chord with his business-minded approach.

Something about the Trust’s programming stuck with him, and Randy kept coming back, particularly when the 1982 symposium in Houston happened to be within convenient driving distance for a certain Miss Kelly Cooper in Austin. (Editor’s Note: matchmaking is not one of our member benefits, but we do advocate for museums and cultural events as wonderful date ideas).

Randy and Kelly Schrimsher in front of Glin Castle, County Limerick, Ireland.
Randy and Kelly Schrimsher in front of Glin Castle, County Limerick, Ireland.

Antiques have remained an important part of the Schrimshers’ life, even after marriage and three children. As usually happens with collections, theirs has evolved over time, shifting to accommodate new interests or to complement new houses. Randy’s original bachelor pad was traded for a Victorian-style dwelling, and then a Greek Revival home. After a visit to the Philadelphia antiques shop of Jay Carey, most of their earlier purchases were traded out for furniture of the Classical era, also commonly called American Empire, which happens to match the era of their house and the early history of Huntsville, Alabama, where they reside. “Everyone loves the colonial stuff, but once you get bitten by the classical bug,” Randy likes to say, “everything else is dull.”

Surprisingly, the exuberance of form and materials of their furniture purchases tie in to their other collecting passion: contemporary art glass. A few pieces found on vacations were placed, as a trial, on top of some of the furniture, and, as Randy describes, “it started looking pretty good to us.” Randy and Kelly acknowledge that a benefit of collecting contemporary material is that’s it’s possible—encouraged even—to meet the craftsmen, which they find is an enriching experience.

As the Schrimshers’ knowledge of the decorative arts and the size of their collection have grown, so has their involvement with and appreciation of the Decorative Arts Trust. As president of the board, Randy’s support and insight has been invaluable to the Trust, not only during times of change like the handover of the directorship from Penny Hunt to Matt Thurlow, but also during a period of unprecedented growth and expansion of the Trust’s outreach and influence. His summation of his time with the Trust is, perhaps, overly modest: “I can never give back to the Trust what I’ve gotten out of it, from the curators to the collectors to the people that just have interest, it’s all been a fabulous experience.”

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