Living Life with Art

The Bayards blend art from many different places for a unique look



The Bayards’ home is an example of how many types of art from many different places can blend for a unique look.

Photography by Robert Clark

Ruth and John Bayard have come a long way since they first began collecting art many years ago. “I don’t even like to say that we ‘collect’ art,” John says. “Collecting isn’t a term we apply to ourselves. We just enjoy living with it.”

John considers his first real piece of art to be a Picasso poster he bought as a student that still hangs in their home. “In college, I took an architectural survey course as an elective, and I enjoyed it so much that I ended up taking art history as a minor,” he says. Much of his and Ruth’s interest in collecting art began while he was attending the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, and many of their first pieces were drawings that they bought from artist friends.

When the Bayards moved to Columbia in 1985, they were delighted to find a strong artistic community here. “There is a wonderful art presence in this city,” Ruth says. “It’s full of opportunities.”

In fact, the Bayards credit those opportunities with introducing them to many of their friends. “We have made some strong friendships through art,” Ruth says, “and that gives the pieces we own even more meaning.” Prominent local artists featured in their home include Stephen Chesley, a noted landscape painter; David Yaghjian, whose paintings feature the ubiquitous “Everyman” character; Mike Williams, a painter and metal sculptor, whose work is inspired by nature; Mary Gilkerson, an art professor at Columbia College; Jeff Donovan, who works in multiple media, as well as painting, drawing and sculpture; Judy Hubbard, who is known for her silk paintings; and Heidi Darr-Hope, whose creations are based on spiritual thoughts. Other artist friends whose works appear in the Bayards’ home are Tarleton Blackwell of Manning, a contemporary artist famed for the “Hog Series” depicting rural Southern life, and St. Matthews native Edward Wimberly, a portrait artist and surrealist whose works show cups and chairs in different contexts. A bit of John’s own photography, framed by Ruth, also shows up here and there.

Ruth herself works with vintage and mixed media pieces, repurposing antique handbags and jewelry through A Checkered Past, a business she shares with longtime friend Norah Floyd. “We find new life for things like 19th century watch fobs and chains, transforming them into wearable works of art.”

Ruth and John strongly believe that art collecting should be personal. One of the first sculptures they purchased, entitled “The Shell Collector,” was by family friend Phil Dusenbury and was purchased using money they had originally saved for a vacuum cleaner. They also have several other sculptures by Phil, whose family lived in John’s hometown of Tryon, N.C.

“If you look at an object, its composition, its design, and it speaks to you, then that’s how you build your collection,” says John. Ruth agrees, saying to just dive in. “If you like it but don’t know why, it doesn’t matter. Trust your instincts. Go for it. There’s no such thing as a mistake when it comes to art. Handmade things make you stop and look.”

For those who don’t collect art, there are other opportunities available right here in Columbia. “Visit the museums, tour the galleries, go to one of the many shows such as Artista Vista, or take a class at one of the local colleges,” Ruth says. “The Columbia Museum of Art offers some wonderful programs tied into its exhibits, ranging from talks by guests lecturers to films and guided tours. There’s also a student art sale at McMaster Gallery at USC each Christmas that’s a good way to get to know new artists in every medium. Just take a chance and expose yourself to something different.”

The Bayards frequent the many fabulous studios and galleries in Columbia, such as 701 Whaley, Carol Saunders Gallery, IF Art, HoFP Gallery, The McKissick Museum and City Art. They recommend also exploring art through books and on the internet. “These resources can help you learn about and identify types of art that interest you, from period pieces to styles and compositions,” John says.

Ruth and John were fortunate to travel overseas while John was in the military, and they purchased several of the pieces in their home there. They lived in Turkey for a time, where they collected a variety of Oriental rugs, many of which they couldn’t bring back to the United States due to airline baggage restrictions.

Their home is an example of how art of many types from many different places can blend for a unique look. The dining room table is made from yew wood, surrounded by French chairs. An antique Chinese coffer table flanks the wall as a sideboard with lamps made from industrial pieces. A portion of their collection includes masks, with many different types covering the walls of the breakfast room, including several from Africa.

“We’re very interested in African art,” says Ruth. “It’s very beautiful and has had an important impact in modern art. In fact, most contemporary artists are influenced by it.” Masks appear on the walls of the guest bath, which also showcases an Indonesian puppet that practically dances in the window.

The living room is filled with a collection of mirrors, the product of an interest that began on a trip to New Orleans. “We were in Henry Stern Antiques, and we were young and obviously out of our depths,” recalls Ruth. “But Henry took the time to show us how to look at mirrors and appreciate the glass and the patina. Anytime you meet someone like him who can share knowledge with you is wonderful. He took two young people who were interested but inexperienced and taught us so much.”

Over the years, Ruth and John have used that knowledge gleaned from friends and other artists to collect a variety of pieces that help to create a warm and inviting home. John says, “When you see an item you like, never be afraid of wondering where you’ll put it in your home. You’ll find a place. And the best part is that you’ll have the privilege of looking at something beautiful that someone else created.”

Flowers for the Bayard home were generously provided by Denice Degenhart of (I Do) Unforgettable Flowers.