Dick and Jane Stoker fill their Potomac abode with whimsical post-war art.
By Virginia Coyne
Hanging flat on the ceiling of Dick and Jane Stoker’s contemporary Potomac kitchen is a sculpture of a large nose poking out of the sky. It’s a painted cast aluminum piece by conceptual artist John Baldessari, who’s credited with the line “I will not make boring art.” The Stokers have created a game around the nose. If anyone guesses the title, they win $100. To date, only one houseguest, a 9-year-old boy playing on the floor beneath it, has determined the work’s true name and snagged the prize. We won’t ruin the game for future visitors, but the correct answer is not “Heaven Scent,” which was the guess given by their interior designer, Barbara Hawthorn.
Lower to the ground, the glass-doored kitchen cabinets hold very little real food –“I’m always on a diet,” jokes Jane Stoker – but do contain a rare, complete “cake” set of Pop artist Claes Oldenburg’s “Wedding Souvenir,” the realistic wedding cake slices he created out of Plaster of Paris and spray paint to be given away as favors at the 1966 nuptials of the curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In the adjacent dining room, a life-size and startlingly realistic figure of a security guard by sculptor Duane Hanson, known for his likenesses of working class Americans, stands watch in the corner by the window. The guard has forced dinner guests to do double takes and has fooled deliverymen who couldn’t understand why a man looking right at them would not answer the door.
On the wall across from Hanson’s sculpture hangs Frank Stella’s “Scramble: Descending Green Values/Descending Spectrum,” a work Jane Stoker says is one of her favorite pieces, even if its acquisition was not long pondered.
“He [Stella] was coming to Florida and asked if he could nap at our home,” she remembers. “I didn’t have a Frank Stella, so I was at my phony best and I went out and bought a Frank Stella before he came to take a nap at our house.”
How does one find a Frank Stella so quickly? “We knew an art dealer,” she explains.
Dick Stoker, who made his fortune selling mutual funds for Franklin Templeton Investments, and Jane Stoker, who charmingly claims to make her living beating her husband at backgammon, began collecting art in 1986. That means they know many art dealers and artists, and that their primarily post-war collection, although whimsical, is a serious one filled with the work of not only the aforementioned painters and sculptors, but with pieces by the likes of Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Fernando Botero, Joan Mitchell and Alexander Calder.
The Stokers don’t take any of it for granted.
“It’s a new picture every time it moves. It’s a new filling of space,” Dick Stoker says of the red Calder mobile dangling high above the house’s great room.
The couple spend much of their time in the great room, where designer Hawthorn helped arrange their collection and furnished the space with a mix of custom furniture she’s designed – including a low simple white cabinet for the TV that won’t obstruct the art and a delicate lucite and glass table by the door to place their keys. You will also see a Roche Bobois sofa upholstered in Missoni fabric (a Stoker favorite) with a vibrant striped Missoni rug in front and yellow swivel chairs by B&B Italia so people can easily turn and have conversations in the space. Their newest piece-de-resistance, a polished stainless steel rocking chair – a limited edition of only six by Israeli-born artist Ron Arad – was purchased this year at Art Basel/Miami.
“It’s very comfortable; beautiful but comfortable,” Hawthorn says of the house. “It’s not a ‘don’t-touch’ home. It’s a home to really feel comfortable and have fun in. That’s what makes it very different.”
See all the photos in our print edition: