Step by step, Jeanne Beker’s journey to becoming an art collector

If art tells a story, then Jeanne Beker's collection is a novel.

Art has always been important to me but it’s not as if I grew up with a lot. My parents were immigrants and they came to Canada with nothing after they survived the Holocaust. To have art was a luxury and that wasn’t part of our story.

But my mother gave my sister and I a real appreciation for art because she loved it herself. I will never forget: We had a still life of fruit that someone had given to my mother that she cherished. That is how it started. But my mom was a wonderful craftswoman—she did needlepoint, crochet, etc. These were her idea of what great art was because it was what we could afford. And it was great. And my daughters’ really appreciated what she made and they have my mother’s art in their homes now.

1. How Jeanne’s collection began

The first real piece of art that I ever owned was a gift to me from Toller Cranston. I befriended him in about 1979. I had just moved into a wonderful loft upstairs from his skating coach’s gallery in Toronto’s Cabbagetown. And Toller happened to live in the house next door. We became fast friends and confidantes, and I absolutely adored him. He was insane and the first flamboyant artist of that ilk that I got up close and personal to.

I had just started working at CityTV and he said, “You have to start Canadian art.” He made it seem like I almost owed it to the country. He said I would never regret it.

He invited me to one of his friend’s art shows: It was Marion Perlet. She was a wonderful, mad woman herself, and was originally from Germany but had lived in Montreal for a very long time and worked very closely with Toller. Her style influenced his and vice versa. And so he bought me one of her pieces. I was just so excited on the cab ride home holding this little piece wrapped in brown paper.

2. What Jeanne learned along the way

On that cab ride, Toller recommended I choose one artist to collect to keep my collection cohesive. And I started collecting a lot of Marion’s pieces. But then, I also started discovering other artists, and what a joy it was! By the mid-1980s, I married my husband, who was also an art collector, and we started to blend our pieces.

3. How it played forward

When we had our two girls, I was so happy that we had such an abundance of art on our walls.  And because of that, our daughters grew up to be such creative people themselves: Joey takes after my mother and does a lot of needlepoint, embroidery, beadwork and crochet and is quite a seamstress and painter, as well. And Bekky has become a full-fledged artist, animator, puppeteer, ceramicist—she makes so many beautiful things that are very eclectic. (Her store in Ontario’s Northumberland County is a destination for artists and collectors from all over the province.) I think their love for art is because my husband and I decided to mix many artists into our art collection.

4. Phase 2: How art tells your best story, regardless of your journey

In the late 1990s my husband and I separated, which was sad for a variety of reasons, but it also meant we had to divide our art. There is a story about one piece in particular that is very personal to me but suffice it to say, art has a way of meaning more than just an item you hang on your wall.

And now I have a wonderful life partner who also has a strong love of art—we actually met at an art gallery. We live together and have merged our collections, and that continues to narrate my story.

5. One last reminder

There isn’t one piece of art I have purchased that I regret. Each piece tells my story and reminds me of what was happening in my life at that time. They make my houses feel like homes. They really do become part of your DNA—the wide lens through which you see the world, and they become a common reference point for yourself and other members of your household and guests. They are touchstones and harken back to different times of your story and are such an incredible representation of your life and your journey.