Delaware couple donates art to benefit Habitat for Humanity [video]

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Habitat for Humanity is about to receive a large gift from Wilmington attorney and art collector Dick Poole.

Poole and his wife Elisa will donate more than 100 pieces of original, one-of-a-kind art for auction this Friday. One hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit the nonprofit’s New Castle County chapter.

“The moneys that we get from the art auction will be used right here in our program,” said Habitat for Humanity CEO Kevin Smith. “We currently have seven houses under construction in Wilmington and we also will be starting another four later in the year.”

Habitat for Humanity homeowners put in what the nonprofit calls “sweat equity,” as they help construct their future homes. Homeowners also undergo financial coaching and construction and home maintenance training.

Smith explained that the impact of the donation goes beyond the money that the auction is expected to bring to the organization, which he estimated as ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.

“It’s really bringing in a whole new set of people who have not been familiar with Habitat into the organization so we can introduce what we do to them,” Smith said. “It’s helping people think of other creative ways that they can help us.”

The beginning

The Pooles bought their first painting, a watercolor by Delaware artist Carolyn Blish, two weeks before their wedding in 1963. It cost $11.

The following summer, the couple visited Amsterdam where they bought their second painting.

“We kid around with each other because we think [the painting] was purchased either on the day or the day before our first child was conceived,” said Poole. “And that makes our daughter, who is now 48-years-old, blush every time we tell the story in her presence.”

Poole said that he and Elisa love artwork created by Delaware artists, especially those who represent scenes from the First State. He estimated that he and his wife have purchased about 10 paintings a year over the course of their 50-year marriage, totaling almost 500 pieces. The majority of the work is from the late 19th and 20th centuries and consists of watercolors, oil on canvas and drawings.

Their oldest painting dates back to 1832.

“We just enjoyed going on trips and buying a painting here and there [as] it brought back happy memories of where we’ve been,” Poole recalled.

Until its closure in 2012, much of the artwork was displayed at the couple’s AerieArt Gallery in Rehoboth Beach. Now, a good portion of the paintings hang on the walls of a gallery located off the lobby of Park Plaza, a condominium in Wilmington where the Pooles once lived. The couple now lives at Country House, a nearby retirement community.

Can’t take it with you

In recent years, the couple has experienced some problems with their health.

In 2009, Elisa Poole was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Dick Poole was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in his small intestine about a year and a half ago. He underwent two surgeries where five-and-a-half feet of his small intestine were removed. Poole said the news forced him to start taking inventory of his life.

“It certainly was a factor in what do I do with 500 paintings, knowing that our children would only be able to handle so many,” he said. “As the old expression goes, ‘One can’t take it with you.'”

Previously, Poole donated prints to Habitat for Humanity’s “Art for Homes” program, a program where homeowners get to pick art from the nonprofit’s donation and home improvement store, ReStore, for free.

The program, which begain in 2010, was the brainchild of Habitat for Humanity board member Annabelle Kressman. Friends with Poole, Kressman inspired Poole to donate his art to what has become the charity’s first-ever art auction.

“We’re just delighted to be able to help out,” Poole said.

Cancer free

Earlier this week, Poole met with his oncologist and learned that he is cancer free. Poole said that he will ride this high into Friday’s auction, where he, his wife, their three children and eight grandchildren will witness the process of the art collection finding new homes.

In addition to the auction, Poole is also donating 19 paintings to the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, where he is a board member.

The Habitat for Humanity Art Auction: The Elisa and Dick Poole Collection will be held at Arsht Hall in Wilmington, Friday. A preview of the selection begins at 5:30 p.m. and the auction begins at 7 p.m. Auctioneer Alasdair Nichol of Antiques Roadshow fame on PBS will donate his services.

“I hope [the buyers will] get as much pleasure from the art that they purchase as Elisa and I have had over the years,” Poole said.

The Pooles are longtime supporters of WHYY. Elisa Poole served on WHYY’s board from 1992 to 2012.

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