Richmond artist Lee Baskerville has lived in his Federal-style home for nearly a decade. The home, built in 1818 in Richmond’s Historic Church Hill neighborhood, served as the location of our first November Short Run Shirting photo shoot. An art collector, traveler, and avid outdoors man, the interior of Lee’s home is adorned with austere minimalism in a balanced composition of classic and modern aesthetic. Before the photo shoot, we sat down with Lee to find out more about life as an artist, his love for the architecture of his home, and his natural segue into interior design.
You were commissioned for your first collection of work at the age of nine, how did this set the course for the rest of your life?
When my father was just getting into the safari business he was asked to produce a brochure for a South African safari company. My dad was a very good salesman, and asked if they would like to have the brochure illustrated as well. They agreed, and when he came home he told me that he got me an illustration job but it couldn’t look like a kid did it. If my illustrations weren’t good enough, he would not give me the money and would pay someone else to do them.
This was an adult job with adult responsibilities and helped me realize at a young age that if you set your goals high, you can produce. It would certainly be easier for me now, but as a kid I was a perfectionist and always set high goals for myself. When I talk to student or business groups about life as a professional artist, I tell them that a lot of it is like any business career, you have the opportunity so take the leap and go with it.
Did your love for the outdoors begin through joining your father on safari?
I would spend my summers in tent camps in southern Africa and the outdoors just appealed to me ever since I was young. When I lived in Africa for a year after high school, I used to take off on Sundays and explore the property of the private game reserve that I worked on. I would pick a direction and walk 10-12 miles through the interior of the Savannah. Eventually I stopped wearing shoes to become quieter when I stalked animals and I even got to the point where I would go out without a rifle. My dream was to be a wildlife painter, so I would go out just to watch the animals.
You think about how often we see our reflection in civilized life and consider our appearance, but out there, there are no mirrors or amenities. When you separate yourself for an extended period of time, you pay much more attention to everything else around you and become far more acutely aware without weapons when you are living in an environment where things can eat you.
I sometimes think people get a false sense of security, because they have a gun, or are in a car. They really don’t realize the precariousness of their own existence. People become a bit harsh, with how they exist because they feel invincible. You tread more lightly in the world when you realize that your existence is somewhat tenuous. There’s nothing like coming across a lion on foot with no weapons and having to deal with it. It’s impossible to not prioritize differently when you are in an environment like that.
Did you have a particular attraction to the Federal-style architecture of your home when you purchased it?
Federal-style architecture was the first truly national style for the United States. Federal architecture is very simple and is not about a lot of adornment. This is the way I tried to furnish my home. Nothing is a period look, but I’ve tried to capture the level of practical elegance that you would have found in a home in this era so that everything functions within this space. These homes lend themselves well to contemporary life. The ideals expressed in this type of architecture are similar to the ideals as a nation. We are a nation of very practical, resourceful, and passionate people.
Do you look for anything in particular when you are adding a new piece of art to your collection?
Everything is always in flux and pieces filter in and out of my collection. I don’t acquire works of art to fill a space or to create a certain period look. When this happens, this can negatively affect the interior design because there is something that is almost dishonest about this. I like to collect things that appeal to me and I really don’t have a lot of interest into holding onto everything that I acquire. I’ll enjoy what I acquire for a while and then sell or pass something on to someone if they really admire something I own.
Do you ever get attached to the art and furniture that you create?
People often ask if I get attached to my art. I tell them no because I can just make something new. If I’m growing as an artist, it is the process of creating that’s interesting to me. Letting it go, that’s the reward.
What do you enjoy the most about being an artist?
It would boil down to being able to get the most out of life’s visual spectacle. I see spellbinding beauty everywhere I look -I simply cannot avoid it. The older I get, the more I learn, the more I look, the more beauty I become aware of in the most unexpected and humble circumstances. Being an artist, for me at least, is about seeing the world clearly, and in a positive, flattering light that is impossible to turn off.
Many of the items of your collection have a minimalist aesthetic to them.
There’s a mix of everything in my collection, ranging from a 16th century Italian table to Spanish sculpture. I’m attracted to a lot of Asian and African pieces because they aren’t made under any other pretense than what they are supposed to be. There’s very little chance of the creativity being influenced by an outside source. All good design is inherently practical. When living minimally, there’s a practical use for everything. Now people are realizing that they are not only practical but there’s certain elegance to them.
You are also an interior designer, what is your approach to setting up a space?
Setting up a space is much like art, I try to start with the key simple elements, so that I only have the bare minimum of what it takes to hold it together. Within 20-30 minutes when I start throwing paint onto the canvas, I’ll know whether the composition sings as an abstract weaving of shapes. If it doesn’t, I’ll go back to the drawing board and figure out what is fundamentally wrong with the design. A painting that is well designed paints itself and looks and feels graceful; spaces are very similar.
As an interior designer, do your feelings of a space ever change after you design it?
If I design it and it doesn’t feel right, I’ll think about it until I get it right. I rearrange my home all of the time, not because there is anything fundamentally wrong with it. If I sell a piece and get another piece in, I’ll move some things around until I find the best way to enjoy it. I think it is important for people to keep their spaces flexible. Nothing is too rigid; even if you love it, don’t be afraid to change it up sometimes.
What do you like about living in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond?
I used to come here all the time when I was in high school because I thought it was one of the most romantic neighborhoods I had ever seen. The key elements to a happy life are your health, your relationships, your craft, and romance. If you don’t have romance in your life, your creativity will suffer, your relationships will suffer, and everything will fall a part. There must be a healthy dose of romance and I thought this was a magically romantic neighborhood and I still do. I love to sit on my roof terrace and look over my home city.