Eclectic collectors



For 34 years, Ron McCarty has looked after the furniture, art and artifacts at Cà d’Zan, the 57-room bayside mansion built by John and Mable Ringling in the late 1920s as their grand seasonal home.

McCarty is the curator and keeper of the opulent residence, to which he refers affectionately as “Mable’s house.”

But, for longer than that, McCarty has been the curator of his personal collections, which he maintains and adds to with his partner in collecting, and in life, Michael Glasscock.

palm2They live in a 1984 Florida ranch-style home in a quiet neighborhood in northern Sarasota. They chose the home for its privacy and because the house has cathedral ceilings and a front-facing courtyard garden.

Over the years, Glasscock has converted the outdoor space into a walled garden with high hedges, vintage Italian garden statuary and terra cotta pots, flowering plants and furniture. The garden also provides a picturesque postcard-framed view from the large windows in the living room.

The men removed one interior wall in the house to transform a lanai into a seamless extension of the living room, but otherwise they’ve kept the original footprint of the 2,200-square-foot, concrete-block home.

However, they have configured most of the interior spaces to enhance and to provide display space for what they collect, which includes silver, micro mosaics, drawings, paintings, mirrors, tortoise shell containers, china and glassware, Greek, Egyptian and Asian objects, art and architecture books, and, perhaps most important, about two dozen illuminated manuscripts dating from 1200 to 1500.

Biedermeier gems

They also curate 23 pieces of museum-quality Biedermeier furniture, each piece well documented with impressive provenance. The furniture dates from 1815 to 1848 and was crafted in Germany, Austria, Russia and Sweden. The exquisite manuscripts, framed and hanging throughout the home, have been loaned out for no fewer than 13 museum exhibitions in the U.S.

“The furniture appeals to us because of the style, which at the time was considered leading-edge modern and controversial,” explained McCarty. “It doesn’t have a lot of surface ornamentation, but the combination of woods are absolutely beautiful. Apple wood, mahogany, ash, flame birch and other exotics are combined with ebonizing techniques that make this furniture unmistakeable when you encounter it.

“Another feature of Biedermeier furniture is that it is gender neutral; it has appeal to both men and women. And Biedermeier mixes nicely with other styles of furniture, making it popular with interior designers and architects.”

McCarty and Glasscock have sofas, desks, a dining table, chairs, beds, mirrors, consoles, bookcases and vitrines throughout the three-bedroom home, and they use their prized pieces in their daily lives and for entertaining. Very little is just for show.

To complement the rich tones of the woods of their elegant Biedermeier furniture, the homeowners took up the carpeting throughout the home and had the concrete underneath stained a honey-caramel color and then polished to a subtle patina.

“It’s a simple treatment, but it truly enhances the look of the furniture,” said Glasscock. “It’s one of the best things we did when we first moved in, and we’re entirely happy with it. And the cat doesn’t mind it.”

As Glasscock is the cook in the house, the renovation of the kitchen was all his. He opted for white appliances, white walls and white cabinetry with a rich brown granite for the counters. He chose deep and wide upper and lower cabinets to hold the couple’s complete china service for 12 in the blue and white Royal Copenhagen Half Lace pattern. Some of the platters are displayed on high shelves.

But, because that isn’t the only set of china that the homeowners collect, storage space was a huge consideration in renovating the kitchen.

“The kitchen was absolutely styled and configured because of the china we use most often,” said Glasscock, “and the extra cabinets mean that we have places for the vintage glassware and china patterns that we seem to keep collecting. We love to use everything for dinner parties. We live with our collections, we don’t just look at them in display cabinets.”

McCarty took the third bedroom for his painting studio/library, where he houses 10,000 volumes of art and architecture. He is a watercolor artist of botanical subjects and only paints on velum, which he has imported in sheets from England.

“I fell in love with velum because of the illuminated manuscripts,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful surface to work with.”

Paper figures prominently into McCarty’s collecting history. He started with books in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri.

“My first real antique purchase was when I was 15 and I bought a rare book,” he remembered. “But, I had been collecting things since about the age of 9, nothing terribly valuable, but things that caught my eye and that I wanted to know more about. I’d save up Christmas and birthday money and go on collecting adventures in Kansas City.”

McCarty comes from a family of artists, musicians and art lovers, so his parents never discouraged his zeal for acquiring interesting and beautiful things.

“They took me to museums and special exhibitions all the time,” he said. “The books led to the illuminated manuscripts, which are my treasures.”

Researching his treasures is part of McCarty’s collecting experience. And his interest in history and preservation occupies a lot of his free time. He’s active on the boards of directors of both the Historical Society of Sarasota County and the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation.

When McCarty and Glasscock met in Kansas City in 1976, they began collecting together and broadened their range. The first thing they bought together was a 1780 French alabaster epergne that sits in the center of their round Biedermeier dining table.

They purchased it at an antique gallery in Kansas City, which is typical of their buying strategy. The collectors never buy online, and seldom at auctions. They research and then purchase from dealers all over the country with whom they have long-standing relationships. Many dealers know their buying preferences and contact them when something special turns up on the market.

McCarty and Glasscock moved to Sarasota in 1980, when McCarty was offered a job at the Ringling Museum. Over the years, while curating Mable Ringling’s home and her finery, he’s developed a deep admiration for her and the things that were meaningful to her.

“John Ringling was all about the art museum,” he said, “but the house is Mable’s through and through. She loved flowers, animals, architecture and the decorative arts. She collected Georgian silver, lace, textiles in general and costume in particular, fine china and exquisite furniture.

“I perfectly understand her enthusiasm to collect, preserve, learn about and to enjoy pieces of history. I feel the same way. But to be honest, her house is a lot bigger than mine, and at some point, Mike and I may have to refine our collections and maybe stop buying because we certainly have no plans to get a bigger place.”

Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: March 21, 2015
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