Travel souvenirs and paintings from artist-friends make globe-trotter Bill Shumaker’s brownstone feel like a truly personal space.
1/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsRetired geography professor and avid world traveler Bill Shumaker has amassed an eclectic collection of art and artifacts from every corner of the globe. Shumaker, who lives on the bottom two floors of a 19th-century brownstone he purchased in the early 1970s, has adorned his 2,400-square-foot space with mementos that remind him of international journeys and friends. “I have had to think about it in conceptual ways,” he says of the decorating process. “Was there any logic to what I had surrounded myself with? Everything in the house has a personal connection to me.”
2/21Photograph: Emily Andrews“These houses were the row houses of the time—they were all the same size,” notes Shumaker. “All of the pieces were, in a sense, prefabbed by a craftsperson.” That includes this latticework archway separating the dining area from the living room. When friends come over, Shumaker uses the table and chairs found at a used-furniture shop in Brooklyn for hosting meals. A yellow bookcase holds family photos and tomes about countries around the world that serve as travel research.
3/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsA grass-skirted figure from Nigeria, and a wooden Madonna and child—one of Shumaker’s first acquisitions, picked up in Haiti in the 1960s—flank this shrine dedicated to the Hindu deity Ganesh, worshipped for being a remover of obstacles. Shumaker discovered the statue on a trip to India, while a Mexico vacation yielded the small stone Aztec face. “I think the highest form of creativity is religious art,” he says.
4/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsA cultural traveler, Shumaker accents his living room with indigenous art that gives it a museumlike feel. Two ancestral figures from trips to Papua New Guinea and Nigeria serve as the centerpieces, while head-turning tribal masks from Alaska and Canada dot the walls, which are painted in a mint hue that his friend Cathy Poynter had custom-made at Lowe’s (locations throughout the city; visit lowes.com). Even a floor lamp with a bright red shade is a souvenir from India. Shumaker accents a Hei Mian chair from Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum (avam.org) with a vivid pillow from Macedonia and a throw from Sri Lanka to complete the worldly theme.
5/21Photograph: Emily Andrews“The gorilla was sitting there for a year before it went on sale,” recalls Shumaker of this eye-catching primate statue, which he spotted at a Southampton antiques shop. “It was originally going in the backyard, but I couldn’t fit him.” Shumaker is a fan of New Zealand artist Dick Frizzell’s work and purchased these two of his identical matchbox paintings while living in Auckland.
6/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsIn the 1970s, artist and friend Murray Grimsdale painted this tabletop with the signs of the zodiac. Shumaker transformed the house’s original fireplace into an area for showcasing busts and statues from Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, plus figures of Tibetan and Indian gods and protectors. “Fifty percent of this stuff is connected with Asia,” says Shumaker, who lived in Vietnam for three months while volunteering at Green Bamboo Shelter (discovereltvietnam.com) to help children who live on the streets learn skills and become independent. The ceiling light fixture was purchased at an antiques store in the ’70s.
7/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsFrizzell’s paintings can be found throughout Shumaker’s home, including this bucolic landscape. “Over the years, he has varied his style a great deal,” notes Shumaker. “A lot of his stuff [now] is pop-influenced.” In keeping with his love of Asian art, Shumaker showcases a water puppet from Hanoi and a vibrantly painted lamp from Dharamshala, India. The old coffee can is used to store odds and ends.
8/21Photograph: Emily Andrews“It’s like Michelangelo meets Homer Simpson,” observes Shumaker of his living-room ceiling, hand-painted by English artist Malcolm Poynter (malcolmpoynter.com). If you look closely, you’ll notice images of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Meher Baba, located on opposite corners within the clouds.
9/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsGrimsdale painted the doors leading into Shumaker’s kitchen with a crowd scene from Applewood(501 11th St between Seventh and Eighth Aves, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-788-1810, applewoodny.com), a favorite local restaurant. The Maori saying scrawled across the top roughly translates to "May you and your family have many years of love and happiness".
10/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsInspired by the tile work in Claude Monet’s home in Giverny, France, Schumaker went to Lowe’s to try to match the bright-blue color for his own kitchen. As an added pop, he trimmed the molding in gold. He then offset the vivid shades with this striking black-and-white photograph of a woman and child, taken by Vietnamese photographer Long Thanh (longthanhart.com). The broom and woven carry basket are also souvenirs from Vietnam.
11/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsThrough the years, Shumaker has collected an array of cookware, including a large brass sauté pan found in a London Dumpster after the closing of a local restaurant. He displays them like artwork on pegs on his kitchen wall, alongside a series of still-life paintings by Robert Box (wp.rboxart.com), who sells his pieces outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave at 82nd St; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org) for $25 each.
12/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsShumaker spotted these conical hats in Vietnam and hung them over lights on the wall to create a glow. “That’s what I do: I see something I like and I buy it even if I have no use for it [because] in time, something will come up and I will use it,” he says. He painted streaks on the wall to add a “sense of primitiveness and rawness”—a sentiment echoed by the grizzly-bear head he inherited from his late wife’s friend’s father, who was a big game hunter and shot it in Alaska.
13/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsShumaker spotted these conical hats in Vietnam and hung them over lights on the wall to create a glow. “That’s what I do: I see something I like and I buy it even if I have no use for it [because] in time, something will come up and I will use it,” he says. He painted streaks on the wall to add a “sense of primitiveness and rawness”—a sentiment echoed by the grizzly-bear head he inherited from his late wife’s friend’s father, who was a big game hunter and shot it in Alaska.
14/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsShumaker transformed this brick-walled space—originally the kitchen—into his bedroom. “I’ve moved some of the rooms around over the years,” he admits. The white cupboard was a built-in unit that was there when he moved in and currently serves as a makeshift closet. A Tibetan wall hanging that says "The jewel in the heart of the lotus" in Sanskrit hangs above his bed, which is covered in a family heirloom quilt. In lieu of a nightstand, a stool Shumaker “picked up along the way” serves as a bedside table for reading material.
15/21Photograph: Emily Andrews“I was involved in rock & roll in the early days, so I have quite a lot of memorabilia,” says Shumaker, who was a manager at CBGB. His entertainment room is lined with vintage Levi and the Rockats, Patti Smith, and The Shirts records that were purchased for $4 apiece at E.J. Korvette, a shuttered discount department store. The room is decorated with other music and art paraphernalia, including a Cats Playbill from singer Laurie Beechman’s memorial service at the Winter Garden Theatre, a concept piece about french fries by John Donsede found at an outdoor art show in New York and old CBGB posters.
16/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsSince the living room, which was once his daughter’s bedroom, is in the process of being renovated, posters sit propped up on the guest bed—dressed in a checkered blanket from Mali and pillows from Macedonia—waiting to be hung once it’s finished. One such example is a vintage Sex Pistols print. “The concert that never was,” laments Shumaker. “The night before the tour, they were on a talk show and said the f-word and the tour was canceled—a sign of the times.” Shumaker’s daughter lived in London and hung the British flag beside a world map pinpointed with all of the places Shumaker’s visited.
17/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsShumaker’s office is dotted with artwork from friends and stacks of travel guides. He inherited the desk from a pal and bought the padded chair at Staples (locations throughout the city; visit staples.com). A vintage rug that he’s had since the 1960s finishes off the comfortable work space.
18/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsThis self-portrait was gifted to Shumaker by Grimsdale. It’s surrounded by photographs taken by the artist and Dick Frizzell, as well as a framed The New Yorker print. “Someone thought the woman in blue looked like my late wife,” he explains of the magazine cover.
19/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsThe ceiling in Shumaker’s office was painted by artist Robert Box. “It’s like lying down on the ground and looking up at the skyline of New York,” he muses.
20/21Photograph: Emily Andrews“I have a good two dozen car-door pictures, if not more,” admits Shumaker, who began his collection when a visiting friend found a Mustang car door on his stoop and decided to sketch it. Now, painting or sculpting a car door has become a requirement for guests staying at Shumaker’s home, and he proudly exhibits the pieces—along with the original hatch found at his doorstep—in his bathroom.
21/21Photograph: Emily AndrewsShumaker met many of his artist friends through Murray Grimsdale when they worked together at advertising agency McCann-Erickson (mccann.com). These two car-door paintings were created by Dick Frizzell and Guy Smalley (visualkiai.com).
By Melody Serafino|
Retired teacher Bill Shumaker lets us peek inside his Brooklyn brownstone. Although he largely fills his abode with travel souvenirs and paintings from artist-friends, he also shops at home-design stores such as Pearl River Mart and Sterling Place for unique accents.
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Mandala Tibetan17 St. Marks Pl between Second and Third Aves (212-260-1550) Shumaker appreciates the selection of Tibetan crafts and decorative items at this cozy hidden gem. “It has a great variety of unique pieces at reasonable prices,” he says.
Pearl River Mart477 Broadway between Broome and Grand Sts (212-431-4770, pearlriver.com) “It’s inexpensive and full of things you never knew you wanted,” says Shumaker of this affordable Chinese megastore, which sells everything from Asian groceries to Buddha statues.
Sterling Place363 Atlantic Ave between Bond and Hoyt Sts, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn (718-797-5667) • 352 Seventh Ave at 10th St, Park Slope, Brooklyn (718-499-4800) • sterlingplace.com Shumaker frequents this gift shop for its ever-changing, eclectic array of home furnishings and antiques. “It has a potpourri of one-of-a-kind items and a very helpful staff,” he notes.