The St. Regis Atlanta’s original art collection is impressive, not only in its scope and understated elegance, but also simply because it exists. In a time in which hotels and commercial spaces would rather outfit each space with reproductions of commercially saturated prints, the St. Regis dared to do something new: create a signature collection that’s as beautiful, relaxing and elegant as the hotel itself. In all, the collection features hundreds of pieces, including paintings and sculptures, as well as clocks and other accessories.
“There has been a tendency in a lot of big commercial hotels or spots to not purchase art outright,” explains Kay Lagerquist Bragg of Buckhead’s Lagerquist Gallery, an influential force in helping to form the St. Regis’ collection. “I think it’s wonderful that the St. Regis made the commitment to ... support the arts. They were committed to actually building a collection that was a permanent part of the hotel.”
Like all pieces of fine art, the St. Regis Atlanta’s art collection was once only an idea. “The president of our company said to me, ‘Think crisp linen, hot summer days. That’s what I want the inside to feel like,’ ” explains Matthew Whitaker, art consultant for The St. Regis Atlanta’s collection.
Tasked with that central working point, Whitaker and his team at International Art Collaborative—an art consultation group working in tandem with the interior designers at Hirsch Bedner Associates—set out in 2006 to develop the themes and find the pieces to transform The St. Regis Atlanta’s grand entrance, gathering spots and other public spaces, then still in the blueprint stage.
The approach, says Whitaker, was threepronged. The St. Regis’ neighbors—the Governor’s Mansion, the Atlanta History Center, the Swan House and the beautifully manicured lawns of West Paces Ferry—inspired the idea of an urban garden landscape, which in turn provided the collection’s subject matter of dreamy landscapes and moody urban scenes, as well as the interior’s palette of mineral greens and ivories.
Building on that original inspiration, Whitaker added the stylistic touches of early French deco and modernism, which are mirrored in the hotel’s furnishings. The end result is collection of art that fits perfectly within the hotel’s overall design.
“From the very inception of the concepts, [we develop] our thoughts and ideas along with the design team so that the marriage is perfect,” Whitaker explains. “This hotel is a great example of how interiors and art work together. The interiors are quite restrained, really quiet and elegant, and the art provides the life in the hotel.”
And, at times, the art provided the inspiration. For the reception area, Whitaker searched for an anchor piece to be displayed behind the reception desk that would act as a welcoming point for guests. It needed to fully capture the essence of both the St. Regis brand and the city of Atlanta while exemplifying all those qualities the collection aimed to capture: romantic, natural, thoughtful and local.
“Among the Trees (Morning)” by Geoffrey Johnson—a large, dramatic piece depicting Piedmont Park circa 1997—was exactly what Whitaker wanted, but there was a small obstacle. It was owned by Evelyn Lagerquist of Lagerquist Gallery, and she wasn’t selling it to just anyone.
“It had to be the perfect spot and the perfect designer that we knew appreciated it,” recalls Bragg, who is Evelyn Lagerquist’s daughter. “[Whitaker] just loved that piece of work and sort of built the whole lobby around the feeling of that piece.”
A Personal Touch
The St. Regis is modeled to feel like a grand Southern mansion. To authenticate the feel, all the portraits, landscapes, etchings, line drawings and sculptures were hand-picked to look like pieces one might find in a grand Southern home. Instead of commercial, the look was to be residential and personal. It also needed to have a thoughtful human touch, so each piece was a hand-crafted original, either bought at auction or antique store or commissioned specifically for the space.
“It is truly a collection,” Whitaker says. “It’s meant to look as if it were collected over time, so there’s a huge variety of media type: oil, acrylic, drawings, charcoal, graphite, sculpture and photography.”
There are subtle human touches throughout the space. Instead of anchoring each piece of art with a screw in each corner as is custom in other hotels, artwork in The St. Regis Atlanta is hung by wire as it would be in a home.
A set of framed photographs in the ballroom pre-function area features famous area authors Margaret Mitchell and Joel Chandler Harris, athletes Bobby Jones and Hank Aaron, and political figures Woodrow Wilson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Thanks to each subject’s candid pose, the photographs read as a display of family and loved ones. These human touches make the St. Regis experience special, Whitaker says—and these details are not lost on the guests.
“They can recognize that something is special when they walk in the space,” he muses. “It’s layers of detail that the guest can sense. They don’t necessarily know what they are, but they know that a lot more went into it than just shopping and picking pretty pictures. It was not a one-stop shop.”
The Atlanta Angle
When starting any design project, one of the main goals of the Hirsch Bedner Associates/ International Art Collaborative team is establishing a sense of place, often with guidance from the local art community. To help find local talent and give the collection a distinctly Southern feel, Whitaker turned to local galleries—including Lagerquist Gallery, Anne Irwin Fine Art, Huff Harrington Fine Art and Thomas Deans Fine Art—both to find existing pieces and commission original works.
“We used many local artists and galleries,” he says. “There’s a lot of local talent expressed throughout the collection.”
Collection standouts include the Long Gallery’s “Shimmering Silver” quartet of oil paintings. This set’s ties to Atlanta are twofold: Both the artist, Nancy Franke, and her silver subjects are from Atlanta. To create this series, Franke visited Buckhead’s legendary Beverly Bremer Silver Shop to browse for pieces of silver that fit both the time and tone of the collection. The results—warm and captivating with an organic flair—have become guest favorites.
Fellow Atlanta artist Dana Johns also has a set of St. Regis exclusives on display, yet her subjects are not metropolitan. Johns instead uses the natural backdrop of her childhood in rural Georgia as her inspiration. Two of her paintings, “Groveside” and “Riverside,” can also be seen in the Long Gallery.
However, the local touch doesn’t come solely from the artist’s fingertips. In addition to Whitaker’s prize acquisition “Among the Trees (Morning),” many pieces simply celebrate Atlanta’s landmarks and storied history.
One of the best examples of this is the vibrant mural in The St. Regis Atlanta Bar. Titled “Resurgens,” Claude Perreault’s ode to Atlanta uses the phoenix—a significant symbol to the city—as the centerpiece in a visual allegory of Atlanta’s fall and rebirth after the Civil War. Under the mythological bird’s left wing lies the destruction of the Old South; beside his right wing is the familiar city skyline of contemporary Atlanta.
In the library, a bold 70s-toned interpretation of the Atlanta skyline by Nigerian-born artist Onyeka Ibe enhances the masculine feel of the space, and a series of silver gelatin prints by Robert Matre captures iconic pieces of public art throughout the city, including Woodruff Park’s bronze phoenix sculpture and the doves and Olympic rings of Centennial Olympic Park’s “Gateway of Dreams.”
To Whitaker and his colleagues at Hirsch Bedner Associates, the finished collection represents a two-year process involving an immense amount of vision, creativity and partnership with Atlanta’s best galleries—but what it represents to St. Regis visitors is up to interpretation.
“Art is subjective,” says Whitaker. “Obviously we want everybody to like it, but even if they don’t, they’re still engaging with it and it’s become a point of conversation. We’ve still accomplished our goal.”
More than a year after the St. Regis’ opening, Whitaker still receives comments about specific pieces, and Lagerquist Gallery—located within walking distance from the St. Regis’ front door—welcomes visitors inspired by the collection on a regular basis. Although people respond to different aesthetics, their connection with the collection is universal, which comes as no surprise to Bragg.
“Art brings a human touch to a room, especially if you’re travelling. It personalizes a room or a space ... You’re looking at something that was created by a human being, and it wasn’t manufactured by a machine or an assembly line,” Bragg says. “You see an original piece of art, and you have a connection there with another human being. It takes your mind off where you are presently and takes you someplace else.”
For Bragg, art is a centering force: “A lot of people, in my opinion, go at it backwards in that they put so much emphasis on everything but the art, and to me, a great piece of art can transform a room.”
Or, in this case, a hotel.