More with Heather Semple, Antiques Appraiser

PM: I’m curious. Did PNC make any good acquisitions of art?
H.S.: The bank did purchase several paintings for specific projects in newer buildings. We always worked with local artists, galleries and attended auctions. We installed local historical photographs in branches such as Homestead and Sewickley. The expansion of the corporate collection came through acquisitions of banks that were acquired in various markets during the ’90s. These collections reflected those regions’ and cities’ individual histories and tastes. For example, Philly had Revolutionary War-theme pieces. New Jersey had nautical themes; Louisville had equestrian-themed works, etc.

PM: If PBS’ popular program "Antiques Roadshow" were to come to Pittsburgh again, what sort of art would you expect to turn up in the homes of ordinary Pittsburghers?
H.S.: You would see magnificent treasures of paintings, prints, antique guns, jewelry and quilts.

PM: What about the serious collectors?
H.S.: I’m always astounded at how great the art is in private collections here. The art at PNC is hard to categorize, but Mellon Bank collected British watercolors. I love the Tiffany lamps that Mr. Hardy [the founder of 84 Lumber] has collected. There are a lot of private collections here that are not necessarily publicized, that are acquired quietly. I’m also amazed at how well people care for their art.

PM: What do you have to think about when caring for art in your home?
H.S.: Where the art is hung, how it is installed, what kind of lighting is used. Is it exposed to the sun? Is it over a fountain or the fireplace? Can someone damage it?

PM: What do you think of "Antiques Roadshow," the way it portrays your business?
H.S.: I am the first one to watch "Antiques Roadshow" on Monday evenings and believe it has created an appreciation and awareness for items and art found in our everyday lives. However, it can be both a blessing and a curse. What viewers don’t realize is that there is a tape delay on the show. In reality, the experts on that show aren’t coming up with evaluations in one minute. They and probably a team of assistants are researching the pieces and coming back four hours later with a P.O.V., or professional opinion of value. What’s important to realize is that this P.O.V. is not the same thing as an appraisal. A P.O.V. is less formal. It is not a legal document that can hold up in court based on a great deal of research. It shouldn’t be relied upon for an insurance evaluation or for tax purposes. The wording used on the show can be misleading: "If this were to sell at auction, it may fetch…." Viewers are led to think they will realize a certain amount of sale when it is contingent on many aspects of the market. It is not always a sure thing, but it sounds so fantastic on TV. I do a lot of research in libraries and in reference books. It’s like a treasure hunt. I just spent an hour and a half in the Carnegie Library trying to decipher a signature on an engraving.

PM: What do you think about the notion of art as a commodity?
H.S.: It is a great thing. I think of art as investment that’s interesting. But it’s not a game.

PM: Can art backfire as an investment?
H.S.: Yes, art can be a bad investment. You need to be diligent as a collector. Beware the ambience of the gallery. People buy without researching the comparables, whether the artist has been well-represented. There are a couple of galleries in New York that I dread because I can’t substantiate the value of what some people have paid for their pieces. And neither can the gallery.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment