“I just caught the bug early on,” says acclaimed artist Hunt Slonem. “I was in second grade: We had to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up, [and] I drew of a picture of myself standing in front of an easel painting,” he says.
And what a blessing it has been for the creative force, celebrated for his series of bunnies, butterflies and tropical birds spotted not only in the chicest homes around the globe but also in the permanent collections of 250 museums around the world, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Whitney, the Miro Foundation and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Slonem moved to Manhattan in 1973, started showing at age 24 and has been highly prolific ever since.
Today, Slonem’s work ranges from his iconic paintings to larger-scale works and sculpture installations (think Bryant Park Grill’s massive 6-by-86-foot mural of birds). But the artist’s grandest passion is the preservation of neglected historic estates—all filled with his menageries of beautiful birds and creatures, of course. Landmarks he has lovingly restored include Cordts Mansion in Kingston, N.Y.; the Lakeside and Albania plantations in Louisiana; and the Scranton Armory (the subject of his latest Assouline book published this fall, Gatekeeper: World of Folly) and Charles Sumner Woolworth’s mansion, both in Scranton, Pa. His latest project is Belle Terre in South Kortright, N.Y. “I just love filling the houses up and playing with color, constantly reorganizing and redeveloping rooms,” he says of his devotion to these old-world architectural treasures. “The environments artists create are really worthy of saving and having people observe. It’s just remarkable in this age of beige and boredom and horror shows in white, that these kind of magnificent, exalted places exist.”