Imagine being in the art scene of New York City—and leaving it to return to be an art appraiser in Kalamazoo.
Sound crazy? Not for Kendra Eberts ’07.
“There are hundreds of art appraisers and thousands of galleries in New York,” said Kendra. “But there are more opportunities here in Kalamazoo and southwest Michigan where there are hardly any other art appraisers.”
After graduation, Kendra went to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York where she obtained a master’s degree in American Fine and Decorative Art (accredited through the University of Manchester in England) and a Certificate in Appraisal Studies in Fine and Decorative Arts from New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
“My first job in an auction house was at the New York location of London’s Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions,” she said. “It was a smaller auction house, which gave me the opportunity to work in most aspects of the business.” That versatility led to new opportunities.
“Last summer, I assisted an appraiser from Florida who was conducting an estate appraisal for her client’s summer home in Northern Michigan. She hired me in part because I could catalogue and research the client’s book collection.”
Working in the arts in New York during the recession was difficult. Many of her grad school classmates moved away and settled for work outside the field. Not Kendra. She worked as a part-time registrar for the contemporary art gallery of Rick Wester, cataloging artwork for the gallery’s inventory. She also pieced together part-time jobs and internships with private art dealers and the International Center of Photography.
How does she explain her fierce persistence?
“When I was 4 years old, I sat down with an assortment of crayons and carefully designed and created a business plan for an art gallery and café,” she said. “‘Art by Eberts’ would exhibit my own artwork and that of my friends, while ‘Kendra’s Kafé’ would feature my grandmother’s homemade pies and my mother’s strong coffee.”
Soon after that crayoned plan Kendra began taking art classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA), and her family would visit art museums whenever they traveled. In high school she fell in love with the medium of photography, and came to K knowing she wanted to major in art and art history. She interned at the KIA and at the Water Street Gallery in Douglas, Michigan. Before her study abroad in Clermont-Ferrand in France, she pursued a summer study at Sotheby’s in London in 2005. That experience was important.
“I felt I had found my place that summer in London,” she said. “I learned how the historical significance of art played a role in its economic market, and that people actually did for a living what I wanted to do. It was through K’s encouragement to go outside my comfort zone that I was able to navigate my major. Professor Billie Fisher helped me a lot.”
The summer study played a role in her Senior Individualized Project, Edward Steichen’s Influence on the Value of Photography.
“In 2006 there was a major sale of photographs through Sotheby’s. Steichen’s photograph ‘The Pond – Moonlight’ sold for $2.9 million, the highest price paid to date for a vintage photograph. For my SIP I assessed Steichen’s biographical and artistic background, the complicated process he used to create the photograph, and the reasons collectors considered it to be ‘museum quality.’ I also drew upon my economics minor to calculate Steichen’s recent market performance through statistical regression models.”
Kendra has since learned that appraisal methodology is complex interplay of multiple factors, only one of which is the overall economic climate of the art market. Her aptitude for combining art and business has roots in her family. Kendra’s mother is a professional singer music teacher. Her father is an economist and president at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. Her aunt is an art curator and assistant museum director. She has cousins who are fine artists and performing artists and a grandmother who was an artist and teacher.
In 2012 Kendra took what could be considered an intermediate step in her crayoned business plan. She established Key Art Group. Her duties include establishing the value of fine art, furniture and decorative items for insurance and IRS-related purposes. She also provides collectors market evaluations and collection management services. And she offers artists business services such as managing inventory, marketing and guidance on gallery relationships.
Kendra plans to fulfill her dream to own a gallery, and she hopes to locate it in Kalamazoo. “This community prides itself on supporting the arts and that’s why I love living here,” said Kendra. She expresses that love in action. Last year she helped organize a sale of artwork by students and faculty of the KIA art school. She writes about art in Kalamazoo on her blog, Collective Sightings. And she’s a member of the Art Committee for Bronson Methodist Hospital and facilitates the hospital’s annual employee art show.
“It was great to see a variety of works that people created,” she says. “Showcasing employees’ talents promotes workplace engagement, and employees were excited to see what their colleagues created.”
Let’s hope Kalamazoo sees the “Art by Eberts” gallery and “Kendra’s Kafé” sooner rather than later. Until then, says Kendra: “I’d plan to create more awareness—and more conversation—about the local art scene.”