Bluffton art lover opens his private collection to the public

Alexander Kasten is opening his home for visitors to view his private art collection as a fundraiser for Family Promise of Beaufort County
Alexander Kasten is opening his home for visitors to view his private art collection as a fundraiser for Family Promise of Beaufort County Sarah Welliver/Staff photo

When Alex Kasten was young, his father would take him to the great art museums of New York City. There, in the halls and galleries of places such as the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, he would quietly take in the paintings. It was as though the paintings were windows to far-off places. He could imagine life in a time he never lived and places he had never been.

Those types of paintings now hang in his home. He has a collection that he has accumulated over the past 50 years that, in essence, has turned his Rose Hill home into a museum. Original artwork from English, French, Dutch and German artists from the 19th century line his walls.

He is opening his home to the public for a one-time chance to see his collection in a benefit Oct. 20 for Family Promise of Beaufort County, a nonprofit group that helps homeless families with children.

But for him, it's also a way to open the doors of his veritable museum to the world, a chance for the public to see some of his collection before it departs when, shortly after the benefit, about 32 of his paintings will be headed off for a three-year tour at museums across the country.

"It's opened my eyes to the world," he said. "It's time to share it."

The art lover grew up to be a businessman. He became an executive with New Jersey Bell and Verizon, then became a consultant in the telecommunications industry. His earliest acquisitions were the result of Kasten and his wife, Barbara, searching antique stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. While traveling on business, he connected with Kurt Schon, the namesake of New Orleans' Kurt E. Schon Ltd. Gallery about 30 years ago. Since, he has relied on Schon and his associates for guidance in building his collection.

He collected with a focus -- in particular 1800s and early 1900s European art, as well as Japanese and Chinese ceramics. Most rooms in his home are decorated with original pieces. Above his mantle in his living room is Felix Armand Heullant's "Char nuptial Japon (The Japanese Wedding Chair)" that once hung in 1882 as part of the acclaimed exhibit of the Societe des Artistes Francais in France. Turn the corner and his collection of finely detailed Japanese vases and plates from the late 19th century Meiji period are down the hall.

Last year, he published "Where Will You Travel Next? Destinations in Paintings," discussing most of his collection in detail. The title is a reflection of that long-ago feeling fostered in Kasten of how the art itself can be a ticket to different places and times. In the introduction, James Allen Scott, research director at the Schon gallery, writes, "All of the paintings in the collection tell of the artist's travels -- near or far or real or imagined. ... Best of all these artists were painting for people who hadn't been born but would look at their work with delighted and cherishing eyes."

Soon enough, Kasten might not look at some of his paintings again. After the 32 pieces depart for their tour they might never hang in his residence again. As he approaches age 80, he realizes that it's time to divest. His children don't have the same interest that he does in maintaining his collection. These pieces might be headed to an auction house.

"It's difficult," he said. "But it should be seen by other people."

It's time for the windows to be opened by someone else.


Family Promise of Beaufort County

Kurt E. Schon, Ltd