by juliet izon | September 23, 2013 | People
Schwanda Rountree frequently stops by Hemphill Fine Arts gallery to find great works for collectors.
In just a few short years, statuesque attorney Schwanda Rountree has amassed an enviable assortment of more than 30 contemporary artworks, and connected dozens of appreciative clients to the pieces of their dreams.
Rountree, who specializes in public interest law, fell into her second career the way many do: It was her passion before it became a job. “I started out collecting pieces here and there, and really got involved in volunteer work with different arts events,” she says. Her early involvement with the arts included aiding the Porter Colloquium on African American Art at Howard University, which named her an executive board member in 2007.
By 2010 Rountree had assembled a cadre of artist friends all over the country, as well as gallerists who had her on speed dial in order to notify her when a striking new contemporary work became available. And when she wasn’t able to personally purchase a piece, she made calls to would-be buyers. “Because I really loved the works so much and I wanted them to be placed, I began spreading the word about them,” she explains. “I let the gallery know about other people who might be interested. And so it was a natural progression to [officially] help galleries place the work.”
Today, Rountree Art Consulting works with a roster that is a who’s who of Washington. But discretion remains key in a business where clients can spend upward of $100,000 on one piece. Prospective buyers find her primarily through word of mouth—Rountree rarely advertises—as well as at the country’s major art fairs such as Art Basel or Frieze.
But even those whose pockets aren’t quite six figures deep can still benefit from Rountree’s services. “The average collector’s budget will be in the $10,000 range per piece,” she reveals. “But I don’t really like to turn people away, so I do work with clients who [only have] $3,000 to work with. It just means that I have to work harder to find them what they really, really want. And it’s possible.”
Rountree’s own collection, housed at her Petworth home, features a mix of abstract and collage-based work, including contemporary pieces from art-world darlings Kehinde Wiley, Iona Rozeal Brown, and Wangechi Mutu. “I tend to collect based on themes,” she explains. “So usually [a piece will focus on] relevant issues I can relate to, [like ones] dealing with gender, socioeconomic issues, or race.”
And when asked about her professional goals for the future, Rountree says with a laugh, “Essentially, I just want to be the go-to person for all of the amazing, hot art.”
photography by aaron clamage