Archive for December, 2010

Steve Martin in Winston-Salem


I just finished reading Steve Martin’s new novel “An Object of Beauty,” which I liked quite a bit. Martin is a long-time collector of American art, and, through the novel, he takes readers into that world.

Not long before that, I read his memoir “Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life,” which mentions a stop in Winston-Salem.

All that provides a handy excuse to tell my Steve Martin story.

Back in the days when Nick Bragg was the director of Reynolda House Museum of American Art, I was interviewing Bragg in his office one day when he mentioned in passing that so-and-so was on his list of geniuses that he had spent time with.

I asked whether he really had such a list.

Sure, he said. He opened a drawer in his desk, pulled out a legal pad and began reading the names. The connection with many was easy enough to make. Maya Angelou was a professor at Wake Forest University. Writer John Ehle and his wife, Rosemary Harris, live in Winston-Salem.

When Bragg got to Steve Martin, I stopped him and asked how he happened to spend time with him.

One day, he said, he was talking on the phone. His office is on the second floor of the museum, and he happened to be standing at the window looking out toward the main entrance when a limousine pulled up. Out stepped a man in a white suit and an attractive woman.

“Her jeans looked like they had been painted on,” Bragg said.

To the man on the phone, he said, “I’ll talk to you later, Bob.”

Bragg hung up and raced to the entrance where he told the docent that he would take care of everything. He thrust out his hand to the man and said, “Hello, I’m Nick Bragg.”

The man, apparently under the erroneous impression that Bragg knew who he was, shook his hand without mentioning his own name. As Bragg took them on a tour of the museum, it became clear that the man was not only quite knowledgeable about the art but was also a serious collector. From time to time, he would lean over to his friend and say something along the lines of, “You know, I like my Grant Wood better.”

It drove Bragg crazy. As soon as he put them back in the limousine, he got on the phone and called around until he figured out that it was Steve Martin, who was performing in town that night.