Dwight Cleveland, a Chicago real estate developer, has been an avid collector of vintage film posters since 1977 with a collection that hails from 56 countries. Here he tells ATG about his habit.
ATG: How did you get the collecting bug for vintage posters?
Dwight Cleveland: In 1977, I was a naive 16-year-old senior in high school who became smitten by a portrait lobby card of Gary Cooper and Lupe Vélez from Wolf Song (1929). The artwork, colour saturation and graphic design just reached out and grabbed me.
Where do you find items to buy?
All over the world: advertising in publications like ATG (where I placed adverts decades ago), flea markets and antique shows, dealers, collectors, eBay, other online and live auctions. My cheques always clear so people bring me things all the time. I never know where my next acquisition will come from but I’m always on the hunt.
Do you go for ‘the best you can get’ or are driven more by the hunt for something others have missed?
‘La Chasse’ definitely fits my personality but someone early on advised me to collect what I loved and all the rest would fall into place, and that’s exactly what’s transpired. I’m also a stickler for condition and have a tremendous amount of patience – Best-in-Class and Best-in- Show are very important.
What elements do you look for when considering a purchase?
Most true collectors get a visceral reaction to seeing something that is meant for their collection. Graphic design, condition, and provenance are all important to me. The hard part is trying to contain oneself when negotiating a deal – although I’ve learned to walk away from deals.
What is the most you have spent on an item for your collection?
Movie posters haven’t yet reached the stratosphere like most art niches, so most really great items are in the four- and five-figure realm.
I did take a huge risk with about a quarter of my liquid net worth acquiring the collections that have resulted in my Remarkable Women & Underrepresented Communities Behind the Camera During the Silent Era Collection. Selections from this are currently on exhibition at Poster House in New York. It has taken me beyond just collecting film posters and into an important worldwide discussion of recognition for these groups that have been ignored for too long. Now I’m an advocate for women’s rights!
How large is your collection?
About 500 large posters from around the world; 2500 US lobby cards of the most recognised female and male stars of the 1920s and 30s and then 8750 silent lobby cards where women or other underrepresented community members played a role behind the camera.
Where do you display your collection at home?
We just downsized from a 6000 sq ft home where my faves were in custom Lucite boxes strategically placed among our other art. Our ceilings were 13ft and there were some internal stairwells and hallways that lent themselves for fantastic groupings and display. I now live in a modern building with floor to ceiling windows where everything would get parched from the sun, so my posters are either out on loan at museums or in storage.
What exhibitions/museums and galleries have you loaned to?
The Minneapolis-St Paul Film Festival, The Illinois Holocaust Museum, The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Columbia University and currently at Poster House in New York City [see box below].
Have you considered selling any items from the collection?
We call it ‘selective editing’ and I’ve always done that the old-fashioned way: selling directly to fellow collectors, to specialty dealers, at auction and online.
How would you describe your collecting habits?
Do you have a favourite poster?
That’s easy – the last one I saw.
What advice would you buy a young collector?
Buy what you love and what speaks to you and always be mindful of caveat emptor.
Do you collect anything else?
American Western Art, architectural salvage (like door hardware, lighting fixtures, art glass shades, carved wood mantles) and antique jewellery which has kept me happily married for 32 years. I just bought a nice brooch in London recently.
The Experimental Marriage: Women in Early Hollywood exhibition featuring items loaned by Dwight Cleveland runs at Poster House in New York City until October 9.