Eye for excellence

People The Arts

November 30, 2023

Charlotte collectors Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro share their appreciation and affection for exquisite artistry in Craft Across Continents, an exhibition opening Dec. 9 at The Mint Museum.

by Michael J. Solender

In 2012, Danish modernist glassmaker Tobias Mohl reached out to Charlotte craft collectors Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro about a piece of his they’d acquired several years earlier. Mohl wanted to include the work, “Column Group,” an assemblage of nine handblown glass vessels mounted on a large rectangular pedestal, in a forthcoming exhibition at the Glasmuseet, a renowned glass art museum in Ebeltoft, Denmark.

“We were thrilled to support Tobias with his request,” Ferraro says. “After having it packed up and shipped to Denmark, we spontaneously decided to surprise Tobias and travel to Denmark to attend the opening and reconnect with our friend.” Not only did Ferraro and Lassiter attend the exhibition opening to support their artist friend and his wife, but they also were treated to a “magical” seven-hour visit to their home and studio. Tobias then referred the couple to a new-to-them artist, which led to additions to their collection and fresh artistic adventures to explore.

Left: Tobias Møhl (Danish, 1970–). Green Glassweaver Vessel, 2012, glass. Promised Gift of Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro. Right: Rowland Ricketts III (American, 1971–). Untitled, Noren, 2006, indigo dyed hemp kibira, paste resist. Promised Gift of Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro. 

“This has been our experience with collecting through the years,” Lassiter says. “Every thread you pull leads to another thread. You visit and you have lunch, and you look at work and then they say, well, you ought to go see this person over here. And that makes another fabulous connection.”

Those deep connections will be on display at Mint Museum Uptown Dec. 9 – May 5 in Craft Across Continents – Contemporary Japanese and Western Objects: The Lassiter/Ferraro Collection. About 60 handcrafted objects including ceramics, glass, textiles and bamboo collected by Lassiter and Ferraro over the last several decades will be on view. Annie Carlano, senior curator of Craft, Design and Fashion at the Mint, curated the exhibition. 

“Right here in Charlotte, we have a world-class, museum-quality collection of objects that Lorne and Gary have been amassing over decades,” Carlano says. “What distinguishes their collection is this focus in part on ceramics and bamboo from Japan, and in particular, works by women. There have been very few women working in ceramics or bamboo in Japan until recently. Lorne and Gary have sought them out because they understand how important that is to the history of Japanese art and how important it is to chronicle it.”

Longtime members and supporters of the Mint Museum, Lassiter and Ferraro were founding members of The Founders’ Circle, the former affiliate group for the Mint Museum of Craft & Design. Lassiter served as executive director of the group. The couple has fueled their passion for contemporary craft through extensive global travel and an affiliation with a group of Washington, D.C., and Renwick Gallery members. Many of these connections have served as mentors to the collectors.

“We started traveling with them and going to shows and being involved in the whole network of craft enthusiasts,” Ferraro says. “This is what really is the power of our experiences — being with people who loved the same type of art.”

Sharif Bey (American, 1974–). Raptor and Sphere, 2021, vitreous china and mixed media. Promised Gift of Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro.
Honda Shoryu 本田聖流 (Japanese, 1951–). Shadow, 2005, bamboo and rattan. Promised Gift of Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro.

The couple allowed Carlano to select virtually any object from their collection for the exhibit. She chose items that both complemented and supplemented works within the Mint’s permanent craft collection.

Of special note, Carlano encourages visitors to look for a diverse selection of bamboo works. “There are so many different patterns. It’s rare to see so many bamboo sculptures in one place.”

Carlano also singles out two ceramic works by American artist Sharif Bey. “One hangs on the wall and ostensibly looks like a large necklace. The other work, inspired by African figures, is a large head with impaled nails and ceramic shards. It’s also a vessel — it has a finial on top of the head, and it’s a container for healing power.” 

Tobias Mohl’s “Green Glassweaver Vessel,” a striking piece crafted in 2012, is featured as part of this special show. (His work “Column Group” was gifted to the Mint by Lassiter and Ferraro and is installed in the museum’s main exhibition gallery.)

When asked what characteristics make for an excellent collector, Carlano doesn’t hesitate.

“It is really the eye,” she says. “It’s the ability to see greatness that others don’t see. It’s an ability — usually based on a lot of looking and years of experience — to understand, and in the case of craft, to see a great object and appreciate how finely made it is. You’ve got to understand the technique. Gary and Lorne have this from years of self-education and mentoring. They collect from the heart. They have years and years of experience of looking at objects and a kind of self-awareness about who they are and what speaks to them.”

A prominent theme of enjoying life through living with art is fully on display with this collection, not only in the objects showcased, but in the design and display of the exhibition. 

Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro sitting on the couch of their condo in uptown Charlotte with their dog, Kobe.

Gary Ferraro and Lorne Lassiter with their dog, Kobe

“I wanted it to feel like you were in somebody’s home, not in a museum gallery,” says Carlano, who collaborated with Meghann Zekan, chief exhibition designer at The Mint Museum, in conceiving the design for the space. “As you enter the gallery, there’s a huge photo blowup of the Charlotte skyline as seen from the balcony of Gary and Lorne’s condo uptown. There is a lot of comfortable seating. We want to evoke a feeling for what it’s like to appreciate their collection in their space.”

For Lassiter and Ferraro, the true joy gained from collecting these works is in the relationships built and shared experiences surrounding their acquisitions. “Our experience with Tobias, that’s a very common story for us,” Lassiter says. “It’s kind of our modus operandi. Whenever possible, we like to throw ourselves into the experience and see what happens.”

Ferraro concurs. “We have this conversation often,” he says. “Should we focus, should we think more inclusively or intensely about being purposeful about buying within a certain genre and building out that kind of collection? And we always said, ‘Nope, don’t want to do that.’ We just kind of want to fly with our noses, go out and see the world and see what’s there and get involved that way.”  SP

Featured image: Nancy Callan (American, 1964–). Tiger Top, 2009, blown glass. Gift of Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro. Photographs courtesy The Mint Museum

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