Art for Everyone

Sonia and Isaac Luski
Sonia and Isaac Luski

The Home

The beautiful houses that line the suburban streets don’t compare to the cultural treasures inside Sonia and Isaac Luski’’s Foxcroft home. I use the term “home” lightly. If someone were to blindfold me and place me in the Luski’s living room and then remove said blindfold I would think I was in a secret curated museum – not a home.  Then again, that is exactly what this place is.  

As I waited on the stoop of the Luski’s home before meeting both Sonia and Isaac, I peeked through the vertical windows that lined their front door. I didn’t want to come across as rude, but I was anxious to see what was behind their walls. The foyer was lined with sculptures and paintings, some pieces that I recognized, others that were new to the senses, all of them jaw dropping. As my eyes scanned the entrance hall, each piece of art, like a breadcrumb on a forest floor, led me to the next masterpiece. There must’ve been over thirty museum-worthy pieces in that one room alone. It was at that moment I knew, before even entering,  that this was going to be an experience of a lifetime.

Sonia greeted me at the door with a welcoming smile, excited to show her and Isaac’s personal rotating exhibition. This is the purpose of their collection after all, to share its beauty.  While exchanging pleasantries in the foyer I couldn’t help but fixate on a tryptic on the wall behind her. Noticing my fascination, Sonia asked if I was familiar with the work of the artist, Charles Clary, who was introduced to them by their son, Moses. I was not, but I couldn’t look away.  As an artist myself, I am always fascinated with the process. What was it made of? How did he do it? Reading my mind, Sonia answered, “It’s paper. He cuts each piece out and layers them behind a wood panel.” “That’s amazing!” I said, “What patience he must have. That would take forever.” “Well, we must have five or so more of his in here if you’d like to take a look.”
I had heard of the Luski’s collection before meeting them, but this was the first clue as to how vast their personal collection really was.  I had one last glance-over of all the pieces in the foyer before I made my way through the rest of the home. Sonia, guided me like a tour director, through the many rooms of their gallery. Wall to wall, in almost every room, pieces from world renowned artists were on showcase. Paintings and works on paper by Carlos Estevez, W. Louis Jones, Cundo Bermudez, incredible spinning cubes from Jon Kuhn, glasswork from  Richard Jolley, and so much more. As big as their home was I was beginning to realize that the Luski’s may just need a bigger one.

After a once-over of most of the house I met Sonia’s husband Isaac in the kitchen. Immediately, before introducing myself, I asked, “Isaac, where do you watch tv?” He pointed to a small three foot by three foot space with an accent chair and a laptop-sized flat screen.  “I don’t watch much, but when I do, I watch it here.”

Why would you watch television? There was so much visual stimulation already.  I immediately felt foolish for asking, then the feeling was stifled when I saw a self-portrait of Chuck Close.  The Luskis have an extensive collection of Chuck Close prints, arguably the most famous living American artist. I needed a second to look, examine, and process what I was experiencing before any other silly questions left my mouth.

Aside from their shared interest in collecting art, the Luskis are no different from any other couple who have been married for over sixty years. Their love for each other is evident, their joy for life almost enviable, and both of them are easy to talk to.  I found myself distracted in conversation, droning on about myself because they asked, and genuinely cared to know the answers.  When I was able to direct the conversation back to them their stories started flowing.

Sonia and Isaac are the embodiment of the American dream.  A successful dry goods wholesaler in Cuba with his father, Israel Luski, and his brother, Abraham. Sonia risked everything to emigrate to Charlotte over fifty years ago.  They left Castro’s regime, much like Castro left Cuba, in the dust, bringing very little with them. However, Sonia was able to bring an armful of Cuban paintings to Charlotte, the genesis of their art collection.  

Having an opportunity to start over, Isaac, along with Abraham,entrenched themselves in the real estate development industry. At the time,  Charlotte’s city limits stopped at Sharon Amity. Taking advantage of the city’s bustling growth, they worked hard as they still do to this day, and profited.  “This country is a blessed country because it gives opportunities. If you work hard and use your brain you can succeed,” said Isaac.

Their first trip to Penland School of Crafts near Spruce Pines, North Carolina in 1967  was the inspiration to start their expansive glass collection. There they met renowned glass blowing artists Mark Peiser, Harvey Littleton, and Richard Ritter.  Pioneers of their craft, Peiser, Littleton, and Ritter became lifelong friends of the Luskis, among numerous glass artists.

Like Peiser,Littleton and Ritter, most of the artists that the Luskis support are like family  and they are honored to back them. They appreciate the artists just as much as they appreciate the art that they create. They respect their talent and understand the dedication it takes to make a living as an artist. “We appreciate art. With my fingers all I can do is sign a check. I can’t carve, sculpt clay, or blow glass. I’ve tried but I am no good,” explained Isaac.

A Luski Gallery Piece

Isaac claims he has no artistic bone in his body, so how does he know which artists to invest in. Well, the answer is simple. “We use our instinct. Between Sonia and I, we select what we like and we buy it. The artists became the best with time. We didn’t know what we were buying.  If it becomes valuable, there is nothing wrong with that, but as far as we know, we bought what we liked. If the value doesn’t grow, it doesn’t matter to us because we still get to enjoy it for the rest of our lives.”

In fact, the Luskis enjoy the beauty of their art so much they can’t help to share it with others. Art is their passion and they believe it should be shared with the community. Unlike some collectors, the Luskis don’t keep their art for their personal viewing pleasure. They share their passion and enjoy exposing everyone to art. They have donated pieces regionally to museums in Hickory, Rock Hill, Asheville, NC State, UNCC, CPCC, Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, Levine Children’s Hospital and Cancer Center, Mint Museum, Presbyterian Hospital, Char-Meck Public Libraries, and Shalom Park, just to name a few. Nationally, they have donated to Museum Of Art And Design in New York City, Corning Museum in Corning, New York, Renwick Museum in Washington, DC, and the Ogden Museum in New Orleans to name a few. The Luskis are also the primary art donors to the Foundation for the Carolinas, a magnificent space  in Uptown Charlotte.

The Luski Gallery
The Luski Gallery

The Foundation

The Foundation for the Carolinas has been working since 1958 to connect donors and organizations to the philanthropic needs of our own community and beyond. With $1.3 billion in total assets, the Foundation for the Carolinas is one of the largest community foundations in the United States.  For Isaac and Sonia, they are very thankful to be involved with the foundation.

The foundation is located in a four story building named for the Luski and the Gorelick  families in the heart of Uptown Charlotte and houses an art gallery on the first floor known as the Sonia and Isaac Luski Gallery. Full of offices and conference rooms, the center works as a hub for philanthropic related exchanges for the community to use.  Rooms are also available for rent for private events and corporate gatherings with all proceeds benefiting The Foundation.

It was important for Sonia and Isaac to have a welcoming place where the community can gather and appreciate art. According to Sonia, “We helped open The Foundation with the wishes that it would be free for everyone to enjoy. That was our objective. Anyone can come in and look at the art and get close to the glass sculptures.”

The Foundation for the Carolinas, under Michael Marsicano’s direction, created this unique art environment and works hard to rotate the paintings and sculptures to give the community a fresh view of the Luski’s collection. The works of Rick Beck, Paul Stankard, Stephen Dee Edwards, W. Louis Jones, Charles Clary, Cundo Bermudez, Micheal Taylor, William Carlson, Steve Weinberg and many other artists are featured in the gallery. Also, while visiting The Foundation, the vertical gardens of Patrick LeBlanc are a must see.

The Luski Gallery

The Luskis have successfully found a way to do what they love, give to the community, and share their passion with others. In their 80’s now,  I asked them when or if they ever think they will stop collecting art. Sonia responds in her cheeky fashion, “My favorite piece is the one I haven’t gotten yet.”

For more information about the Foundation for the Carolinas please visit their website at www.fftc.org or view the art at the gallery at 220 N. Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte. Currently the  gallery is featuring the Blue exhibition with works in shades of cerulean, azure and cobalt by various artists.