Scrapbook One Hundred Twelve…




A friend just sent me an email that was attached to a story from my semi-distant past. It was written by a man from LA who accidentally happened into our gallery. I met him at the door and offered him a cup of coffee. He was full of fun and kept asking questions, the answers to which frequently made both of us smile or laugh.

Fenn employs an impressive antique Hopi Indian basket to collect about $1,000 a year for the Special Olympics fund.

Fenn employs an impressive antique Hopi Indian basket to collect about $1,000 a year for the Special Olympics fund.

In one of our back gallery rooms we paused so he could take my picture standing behind a large Hopi basket. It was so big that no arm could reach the bottom. That’s why we used it to collect donations for the Special Olympics. The bottom six inches was filled with paper money of all dominations, including a few fifties and some hundreds. He laughed when I said we always watch lanky guys from LA who had long arms.

During a leisure lunch his desire to write a story for People surfaced in our casual conversation. I suddenly became apprehensive and sensed that my criterion for immortality was tenuous. “Don’t worry Forrest, it’ll be a love story,” he said.

This is the article as it appeared on June 09, 1986:

Forrest Fenn is a Santa Fe, N.Mex. art dealer with a bustling, eight-room gallery, but one of his most prized acquisitions is a 36-inch alligator, Beowulf, who inhabits a pond on the gallery grounds. In artsy Santa Fe, riddled with some 110 galleries, lots of folks think they detect a resemblance between Beowulf and his owner.

It is an unkind comparison, no doubt the result of professional envy of a colleague who makes big waves and bigger bucks. The controversial and flamboyant Fenn grosses about $6 million a year by flouting tradition. His collection may politely be called eclectic: a jumble of Indian artifacts and curios, mixed with expensive paintings and bronzes. He openly sells forgeries of Modigliani, Monet and Degas, and he gets good money for them to boot. Indignant colleagues grumble, but Fenn doesn’t snap like an alligator; he only smiles like one. He gets most of the celebrity collectors who come to town.

Forrest and wife Peggy get into the act with, "The Hopi Indian Dancers", a five ton sculpture carved from a single piece of limestone by Doug Hyde. It sells for $120,000.

Forrest and wife Peggy get into the act with, “The Hopi Indian Dancers”, a five ton sculpture carved from a single piece of limestone by Doug Hyde. It sells for $120,000.

Charming one moment, gruff the next, Fenn admits that his flair has created a flap. “The art business is like religion,” he says. “You can lose money or break even, but if you make money, you get a dirty name.” That doesn’t sound quite like a definition of religion nor does it appease his detractors. “Forrest is a great promoter,” says Gerald Peters, whose Santa Fe gallery competes with Fenn’s. “He has a marvelous sense of the moment.” Los Angeles gallery owner Steve Rose, who frequently does business with Fenn admires his style but understands why others don’t “For one thing he’s a better merchandiser than most of us,” Rose says “and he makes a lot of money. Most of the dealers who have grumbled about him are small ones who are jealous of his success.”

Fenn makes no claims to the finer things in the art business. A high school graduate who put in 20 years as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, he arrived in Santa Fe 14 years ago with a shoe shine, a smile and $20,000 in savings, and set himself up in a business he knew little about. “I never studied art, didn’t own a painting and didn’t know anybody who did,” he says. But the pilot, who says he survived 328 combat missions in Vietnam, is adept at landing on his feet. “It doesn’t matter who you are,” he argues, “it only matters who they think you are. It’s true in Hollywood, in politics and it’s true with a painting.”

Following that principle, Fenn tucked his showrooms off Santa Fe’s main strip and enclosed them behind 11-foot-high adobe-and-stone walls. In addition to the pond, the elegant grounds feature a garden, exotic birds and three guest houses. One of them, attached to the gallery, is stocked with volumes of books, fine wines and $1 million in art. When the rich visit Santa Fe, Fenn scoops them up at the airport in his limo and lodges them free of charge in one of the houses. Jackie Onassis, former President Ford and Cher are among those who have been pampered with catered meals, a Jacuzzi, steam room and a masseuse. Many, notably Steve Martin, have also bought art.

One of Fenn’s repeat customers is Robert Redford, who collects Eric Sloane oils priced up to $15,000. Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange picked up Western art, and Steven Spielberg carted away a Charles Russell bronze. Ethel Kennedy bought an antique Chinese incense burner and raved about it. “One day,” says Fenn, “Andy Williams came in and said, ‘Ethel Kennedy said I just had to come in.’ There were about 50 people in the room and all their eyes went zonk.”

Suzanne Somers met Fenn during a search for a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. “He is an incredible host,” says Somers. “To lie in the bed in that guest house and see the most incredible library and be surrounded by fabulous art and pueblo pottery was a feast.” Guests aren’t obligated to buy, but as one art colleague puts it, “Forrest doesn’t miss a chance.” Nearly everything—furnishings, artwork, baskets—carries a price tag. At the end of her stay, Somers had bought several Navajo rugs and some Indian jewelry. As for starting her O’Keeffe collection, she says, “When I do decide to buy one, it will be from Forrest.”

Fenn encourages gallery browsing with signs that read: “Please touch. We are responsible.” Customers can handle any of 2,000 Indian bowls, moccasins and arrowheads. Big spenders might be drawn to a $375,000 painting that Corot signed on his deathbed, or a $350,000 Remington bronze. Fenn’s collection of fine fakes (owned in partnership with Texas’ ex-Gov. John Connelly) is the work of the late master forger Elmyr de Hory, who fooled many an expert in his time. But why sell phonies? Says Fenn: “If you love it less when you see the signature who now is the fake?” That challenge has shamed buyers into taking 26 De Horys so far, at $9,500 a shot.

Fenn claims an inventory worth $20 million and presides over it all with a staff of 16 and a seemingly cavalier attitude. “Does the guy at One Hour Martinizing love dirty clothes?” Fenn asks, knowing the answer full well. “Does the guy selling used cars like clunkers? Art is a business, and what I love is the business. I’m not particularly into art.”

Fenn, who was born 55 years ago in Temple, Texas, has a bottom-line style that was shaped in the Air Force, where he won 25 decorations, including the Silver Star. Stationed in Lubbock, Texas at the end of his stint, he began buying sculptures from struggling artists and casting limited-edition bronzes of them. Some of the bronzes he sold for cash, but the rest he traded for Indian artifacts. When he was ready for retirement, the hobby provided an inventory for opening an art gallery, which seemed the logical next step.

The business allows Fenn and his wife of 32 years, Peggy, to live comfortably in a spectacularly appointed apartment over the gallery. Fenn collects rare and historical books and takes an occasional day off for a desert walk, fishing or piloting his single-engine airplane. “When I was a kid,” he says, by way of explaining his passion, “I played Monopoly. I have always thought of myself as one who plays Monopoly. That’s what I’m doing here.”

85 thoughts on “Scrapbook One Hundred Twelve…

  1. Thought I could be first for a change got beat by a german. Love that store it sounds like a snapshot of your life back in the hay day.Strange how I can find clues in it or am I up too early..

    • LOL So I have gotten a bit diverted from looking for the chest this morning. Do you think he named his Alligator Beowulf because of the Battle of Finnsburg…. “Finn, son of Folcwald, was a legendary Frisian king. He is mentioned in Beowulf, and in the Finnsburg Fragment… A battle occured at the Finn Stronghold…:)

      Germanguy I agree with you I know a place to by that name but I cannot physically get to it. It’s a bit frustrating…

      I’m going to go read more about the battle maybe there are some clues in it….

      I so love wikipedia!!!

  2. Forrest, you and Peggy led a ‘spectacularly appointed’ life! You both look so happy, and what a collector’s paradise you created in the gallery. I love the Hopi basket collection taken for the special Olympics. Wasn’t that organization started by the Kennedy’s

    Its great to see that guys like you and Dal (Americas finest young men) who survived the horrors of Vietnam found fulfilling passions in life, to move on and occupy your minds. I can’t imagine either of your larger than life personas holding down a desk job.

    Fun reading the People article!

        • You were actually partially correct
          In June 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a day camp for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Potomac, Maryland.[8] She started this camp because she was concerned about children with intellectual disabilities having nowhere to play. Using Camp Shriver as an example, Shriver, who was head of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and part of President Kennedy’s Panel on Mental Retardation, promoted the concept of involvement in physical activity and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Camp Shriver became an annual event, and the Kennedy Foundation (of which Shriver was executive vice president) gave grants to universities, recreation departments and community centers to hold similar camps.

          • Spallies & nearindiana,
            thanks. That was interesting learning the history of who started Special Olympics. I learn something new here each time I sign on.

          • Back in 1992 I had the honor of having the winning cover design for the area Special Olympics and i remember having to put Joseph Kennedy on the cover.

          • nearindianajones,
            You are still correct in my opinion… It was the Kennedy money that funded the project so you could say he started it in a sense… It was just her idea.

  3. The more I read about Forrest the more I realize that he could teach me a lot more then I think I know. Forrest you are truly an amazing man in my book.
    For me I keep drawing jokers. Maybe some day I will hold the cards to make a decent hand.

    Happy Holidays all.

  4. BW, yes we used to cast Doug’s Hyde’s bronzes but we sold his stone sculpture in our gallery long before he started casting. I have two of his marble pieces in my home. Maybe I’ll post photos of those pieces here. Doug is a Nez Perce Indian and very talented. his son, Buffalo Hyde, also sculpts.

    • Here are our two Doug Hyde stone sculptures. The chief is 28″ tall, carved from alabaster and weighs about 80 pounds. The Indian maiden with the pot is carved from marble and is 22″ tall. She weighs about 80 pounds also.

      Doug and I started in the art business at about the same time. That was 1972 and neither of us had much of a client base. But advertising paid off and after two years we were giving Doug a million dollars a year for sculpture he consigned to us or things we purchased outright.

      When Buffalo was born missing his right arm we felt terrible but I am proud to say the handicap has not bothered him much. I am amazed at what that man can do with one arm that I never could do with two.

      Doug was a good friend at a time when our gallery needed him the most. I am so proud of him and what he has done with his career. I wish now that I had kept more of his work. f

      • Stone sculptures always amazed me most. The artist has to know what he is doing from the start since he cannot add back stone he removed.

      • I enjoyed reading that article on you quite some time ago and was glad to see it posted for others to read too. I think it tells a lot about your generosity and your excellent business sense which not only made you successful but also many of the artists you dealt with. I love seeing the items in your collection as frequently I learn something new about the history and culture of the West or am introduced to artists and sculptors I never would have know about otherwise. So a big THANKS for having Dal post the scrapbooks and vignettes – I love them! 🙂

      • Both father and son use their gifts well. Doug’s Indian maiden is beautifully carved – I love his use of the stone’s natural grain and shape to define the subject.

  5. Hopi magic never fails. Awareness of the moments gave Forrest wise business sense. One of my favorite details is that Forrest switched from shoe shine to hush puppies when he moved to Santa Fe. So many critical decisions layered up

  6. This has always been my favorite part of the article.

    “Fenn admits that his flair has created a flap. “The art business is like religion,” he says. “You can lose money or break even, but if you make money, you get a dirty name.” That doesn’t sound quite like a definition of religion nor does it appease his detractors. “Forrest is a great promoter,” says Gerald Peters, whose Santa Fe gallery competes with Fenn’s. “He has a marvelous sense of the moment.” Los Angeles gallery owner Steve Rose, who frequently does business with Fenn admires his style but understands why others don’t “For one thing he’s a better merchandiser than most of us,” Rose says “and he makes a lot of money. Most of the dealers who have grumbled about him are small ones who are jealous of his success.”

    • Small minded people are jealous of other’s success. Get out there and do for yourself what Forrest learned to do. That’s right he earned and learned what was needed to be a business success. Nothing was handed to him. Jealously and bitterness are akin to an animal trap. The one trapped chews off his own leg instead of asking for help out and turning it into something positive. He’s taught his own kids and grandkids the same philosophy.

  7. A successful businessman is one who follows the lead of the other who,s more successful then oneself. To be negative is a downfall.
    Those that bicker will never get anywhere in life.
    Forrest, I admire you and your success and admire Peggy to have endure all your endeavors. A man needs a very strong woman behind him.

  8. NearIndiana, Congrats! that’s so cool you had the winning cover design for the Special Olympics. Do you have an image you can share on the blog? Impressive to say the least. 🙂

  9. Business if u think big it will become big. Success is what Forrest is, if you do right then things happen right. He has most definetly been Blessed. It’s nothing to be jealous about, I’m proud for him and others that reach up high.
    To be positive is the key to success. 🙂

  10. Spallies, would you kindly tell me where or how you add an avatar photo for Dals blog. I haven’t been able to find a link. Thanks!

  11. Interesting article……so why did Fenn post this? Anyone that has done the least bit of research has read this long ago. I think he’s trying to bring the Fenn Mystic Club down to earth with a little reality about himself and the art world……I don’t think it will phase them but at least he tried.

    I admire how Fenn shows the frivolousness that is the art world. The “17 dollars per square inch story” and his statement about the forgeries. People loved and were so moved by the art work until they found out they were forgeries. “If you love it less when you see the signature who now is the fake?” He shows that marketing is everything or at least most of it. Like he said; give him two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and he’ll make you a famous whatever you want to be.

    You can stop reading now unless you’re really bored……Over the years this article has hit a personal note with me on a couple occasions. My wife used this article to get me involved in the chase.

    Not long after Fenn published TTOTC I had minor surgery. Even though I wasn’t at the hospital but a few hours I was supposed to “take it easy” for awhile.

    My wife’s attempt at keeping me from driving her insane and off my feet was to get me interested in the chase and occupied for two or three weeks. When she showed me the book and told me about the chase I told her the last thing I was interested in reading about was an artsy fartsy guy from fantasy land Santa Fe and his ridiculous chest of gold. She said, “No no it’s not like that”; she said read this (she had printed out this article) and the book and see if you still aren’t interested. She said, “I think you and this goofy old Texan have some things in common; you may know where he put the chest off the top of your head.”

    So I gave her a “humph” and started reading; she left the room. About half way through the article I stopped reading and hollered at her, “Hey! Did you just call me a goofy old guy”; all I heard was chuckling from the other room. The rest is history, Goofy_Old_Guy was born and I was hooked on the chase.

    • Actually, I wish I could get my wife interested in it they way your wife got you interested in it. English is my wife’s 3rd or 4th language. I think it is her 4th, but she has not spoken her 3rd in so long that she does not remember it well. Because of that, english poetry eludes her, British comedy confuses her and about the only stories I have known her to enjoy are ghost stories, if I read them to her. Maybe I can convince her the TTOTC is a ghost story.

      But on a bright note, she does like to travel, so hopefully, someday soon, we will be able to take a vacation. I know just the spot I would like to visit.

      • My wife really doesn’t care much about the chase one way or the other. She did encourage me to make comments on the blog. All of the years I’ve worked on computers I’ve never made comments except recently about the chase. I always thought folks that make comments need to turn off the computer and get a life in the real world. Look at me now.

        That’s the paradox that is the chase; Fenn hid the treasure to get folks off their gadgets and out into the wilderness and here we are conversing with him on our gadgets.

        I can certainly relate to your wife. Poetry completely eludes me and British comedy has never made any sense to me; and with my Texas accent some folks don’t think I speak English.

        • Goofy – if I were assigning a title to the paradox of TOTC it would be “Catch 22”

          We are trying to catch 22 torquoise beads in the great outdoors and become caught up in the chase 22 hours a day. (Yes, I lay awake until 4 am some nights solving the poem in bed).

        • I love British comedy makes a lot of sense. Dry sarcasm. Yes I see your point, but it’s also true that people are going to places that they’d never have gone to had it not been for Forrest’s chase. I for one have gone on many special trips “Yellowstone” and others… and I know two other people that have gone to places they would never go except for the chase.

          • Yes Ed I agree, there are some that are using the chase as an excuse to get themselves and their families out exploring the wilderness. Fenn has posted many great stories about searchers out enjoying the wilderness as he intended.

            But there have been many blinded by gold fever that drive right past some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet, oblivious to anything but finding the gold.

            There’s no way to know but I wonder what the statistics of the chase are. It has been an eye opening experience for me seeing how obsessive some people are and what the lure of getting rich quick does to some people. Perhaps this is normal and I just need to get out and be around more people…….On second thought, maybe not.

          • A sad but true statement, Goofy. Folks lose themselves or obsess over an idea of riches…gold fever…even to the point of being an addict. How many will go through a major withdraw or worse, when all is said and done.

            Have most forgot the fun in it all? This challenge is a poker game… never get involved in the game if you can’t take the loss.

            Eye opening? Maybe. Sad, definitely.

        • Goofy, there are worse things to be addicted to. People who have an addictive personality type spend their whole lives going from one addiction to another.
          Now who is going to form the first recovery program from the lure of the idea? 🙂

          • Deb, someone wrote a poem on poetry page long time ago about Solvaholics:) IMO it’s a fun hobby and no different than puzzle solutions or crossword puzzles people work on daily -as long as you don’t waste excessive time or family funds set aside for other things.

  12. Forrest,
    Every day that I learn more about you, the more I want to know. Despite what some may say, there is no away around the good deeds you do. If knowing people by their fruit is any indication, I would bet the apples on your tree are golden.
    I started the chase about 2 years ago, but what sealed the deal for me (in terms of authenticity) was how special Renelle was to you. It was obvious, and it won me over in a big way.
    The Special Olympics hold a special, secret place in my heart. Thank you for donating to that cause.
    Have you been to the only restaurant owned by someone with Down’s Syndrome? It’s been coined the “happiest restaurant on Earth.” I think it’s in ABQ.
    Also, do you know why Robert Redford loves the Eric Sloane paintings? I’m so curious…:)

  13. Mr. Forrest,thank you for doing what you did for the special little girl Jamie whom I have told you about in the past was born with downs Syndrome.she loved the special Olympics.I still have some of her ribbons.4 foot 10 ” and such a blessing to my family.she was my age 27 in the year 2006 ,she went to see jesus.we miss her so very much.its people like you ,that make my day. love you.

  14. I watched a documentary last night about this French guy who started out just being an obsessive cameraman, meaning that camera NEVER left his hand, and it was always filming. Well, then he met Banksy. Followed him around and Banksy actually liked being filmed and trusted this guy. He helped Banksy pull off a HUGE art show and a lot of celebrities were there.
    Finally, after a while, Banksy grew tired of the French guy, and told him to go off and make his own art. So he did. And it was crazy, way out there pop art that came off as pretty creepy (to me, at least).
    Then he wanted to do an art show to rival Banksy’s. He was wild, out of control, too occupied with the interviews and being as grandiose as possible to the teenage girls coming to get his autograph to put together a show in time. He sold everything he owned to hype this art show, and with six hours left until the doors opened (lines were already forming in the street), not a single picture was hung. Amazingly, he started throwing up pictures haphazardly at the last minute.
    And what do you think he made? About a million dollars. Just by cutting, pasting, and photoshopping.

  15. I’m glad Forrest was sussecful better him than John Kerry.

    Teresa Heinz Kerry’s personal fortune is reportedly worth as much as $1.2 billion, stemming from her earlier marriage to former Pennsylvania Sen. John Heinz III, who died in 1991 in a helicopter crash. Much of John Kerry’s own wealth comes from his own family trusts. Worth as much as $125 million according to his disclosures, Kerry had been the wealthiest U.S. senator until he joined the Obama administration last month.

    • @ 6 million a year factoring inflation in that would be a value of

      $12,793,174.74 per year.

      Annual Inflation: 2.74%

      Total Inflation: 113.22%

  16. I had just read this article online the day before yesterday but it didn’t have the pictures. I always love seeing the pictures. Seeing things like that Hopi basket is always better than I imagine them. Nice article.

  17. Mr. Fenn,
    I do appreciate the efforts you have put in to donate your time and money to the Special Olympics. My nephew is 6 years old and he has Down’s syndrome and he lives on the Pacific coast in Victoria. When I read this story it was warming to me, especially the part about the Olympics.

    That reminded me of the Soldier on Program that is similar to the Wounded Warrior program. I was the first person designated as OPI (officer put in charge) for this program and I remember envisioning our goal to some day have an olympic class athlete developed through our program. Of course my boss thought that dream was too high and I replied … “Aim for the stars and we may hit the moon”. Some day I feel we will meet that goal but time will tell.

    Thanks again or the reminder of what is important.

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