Advocates of the Arts: Collectors Tim and Jan Lantrip

Advocates of the Arts: Collectors Tim and Jan Lantrip

by Linda Dautreuil, photos by Candra George

“I HAVE A PARTICULAR FONDNESS for the work of Louis Morales and his painting, Bogue Falaya Park Looking Across the River. The paint is very rich in color and texture. I think his style is distinctive, even when he paints a subject that may have been painted many times by others. I like the specificity of knowing that this location, very near to me, inspired his process,” says Tim Lantrip.

“It is that specificity that is also present in the painting of the Covington Water Tower by Mitch Overby. I see that painting every day, and it may be responsible for my fascination with the idea of lighting the water tower at night for a different kind of appreciation of the historic structure.”

Tim is an experienced businessman who oversees operations of the English Tea Room and Eatery. His wife, Jan, is one of only five compounding pharmacists in Louisiana. They are great storytellers—and attentive listeners. Each makes generous use of narrative traditions to illustrate, educate and advance advocacy for the cultural arts in partnership with local business and government.

Tim is a natural communicator. He relishes bouncing ideas around in casual conversation, beginning with a story. “When the Eiffel Tower was proposed for the 1889 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle) in France, there was concern expressed by the people of Paris about the unique character of the design. The tower appeared to some to be lacking harmonious qualities in keeping with the architecture of the day. Because of this resistance, Gustav Eiffel proposed a temporary structure that would come down after the World’s Fair ended. The response to this vision of the future was eventually so favorable that the Eiffel Tower stands as one of the most recognized landmarks in the world,” he says.

“We know Covington is not Paris, but we are not without our landmarks. The most obvious is our old water tower. Many communities divested themselves of these when new water towers were built. Lighting the tower would highlight the structure and demonstrate our commitment to historic preservation.” As these light projects extend into public art, the community at night becomes an attraction in itself.
Jan shares a similar but individual commitment to the welfare of the community. Born and raised in South Louisiana, Jan is keenly aware of the importance of family. She speaks softly and with purpose as she quotes her mother’s advice to her daughters: “You must have a boat to go forward, but remember, the boat needs a rudder.” Jan continues, “I learned about helping people from my mother’s example. She was a nurturing person. My father was larger than life. He and his seven brothers owned a family business that serviced large diesel engines for oil companies around the world. I was accustomed to being in a large extended family of men and my Dad was one who never met a stranger.”

Jan is adept at personalizing conversation; her particular skill is to describe actual events related to life-changing experiences. “When I was 22 years old with one year left in pharmacy school at what is now the University of Louisiana, Monroe, I was a passenger in a car involved in a horrific accident. I had severe burns, 13 surgeries and extensive therapy, which enabled me to walk again. The trauma was both physical and psychological. I realized that the person I was before the accident had died along with some of my friends. I asked myself big questions, ‘who am I now? Do I want to go on as the person I am now?’ My parents raised me with a passion for life long before the accident. That love of living was the lifeline I grasped. I remember thinking I had things to do. The closeness of my family and the spiritual dimension wrapped up into family life in South Louisiana helped me to persevere.”

It is not only inner strength and wisdom that comes to light in conversation with Jan, but also a desire to help others. The example set by her mother and a keen interest in science led her to her degree in pharmacy. She worked for years in the same pharmacy in Hammond until the death of her mentor and friend. Today, Jan works as pharmacist 12 hours a day, three days a week. Other days are devoted to the English Tea Room and her passion for the universal appeal of tea in all cultures.

An important, and sometimes overlooked, ingredient in the creation of a vibrant culture is one the Lantrips live with every day. They are collectors and patrons of the community of visual artists and arts organizations in Southeast Louisiana, with a special emphasis on St. Tammany Parish. Their collection is displayed throughout their home in the tradition of collectors who not only love the objects they collect but also develop relationships with the artists who make them.

Tim says that growing up, he did not focus much on the arts. He makes the point that sometimes people hesitate to purchase art because they are not very sure they understand enough about it. “My first notion as a young person was that art must be the Elvis paintings on velvet I saw on the side of the road. It was not until I moved to the Houma-Thibodaux area and attended Nichols State University that I experienced my first glimpse of the great big world of art making. As part of the core curriculum, art appreciation was one of my required classes.

“It was not long before I discovered that I liked Greek urns, and then, the Impressionists, and on and on. Even now it fascinates me to look at the image of The Cotton Exchange painted by Degas during his time in New Orleans. As my interest in all kinds of art grew, I expanded my search for information about the artists themselves, the process, the influences of time and place. I regularly attended art exhibitions, visited galleries, went to auctions and now I also research online.”

Tim’s first acquisitions began before the internet was fully available to the extent it is today. His interest then was in early European art. Research took much longer, and though he enjoyed the process, there was a certain distance that was erased when he met Louisiana artist Bill Hemmerling. “Bill was an artist who was very comfortable in speaking about his process and the importance of art to any community, no matter how small the community might be. His comments influenced my decision to be attentive to artists within the community. When we moved to Covington, I was truly amazed at the number of artists seriously working in studios and on site.”

In collecting, serendipity is part of the fun. “You have to be willing to make some missteps, but also embrace the surprising moments when you stumble onto a treasure. I once purchased a Jackson Pollack drawing at a country sale that was discovered in the wall of an old house. No one really knew who Jackson Pollack was. I liked the drawing, but I had no idea it was authentic at the time.” Another time, Tim noticed a particularly interesting frame he thought he could surely use. “Later, I discovered that the George Washington print in the frame was part of a very small print edition, definitely more valuable than the frame.” Occasions such as these amuse him, adding to his enjoyment of the journey.