Surrounding their lives with art

Original prints and illustrations line the living-room walls of the Haddonfield home of Lee and Rosie Hymerling. They do all the hanging, sometimes shifting the pieces around.
Original prints and illustrations line the living-room walls of the Haddonfield home of Lee and Rosie Hymerling. They do all the hanging, sometimes shifting the pieces around. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)

The Hymerlings of Haddonfield exchange eclectic artwork for anniversaries, birthdays. What a gift to their decor.

Posted: March 02, 2012

The startle factor is inevitable. Until you step inside the double doors of the Hymerling home in Haddonfield, there's no hint of what's to come.

But there you are, suddenly face to face with not just a 9-foot totem pole, but with art that climbs up the walls to a cathedral ceiling. It is behind you, beside you, wherever you turn.

Lee and Rosie Hymerling began collecting art on their fifth anniversary in 1974. They decided that instead of more traditional gifts on special occasions, they would exchange art. The only requirement was that each of them equally like it.

That foyer totem pole? It was created in Vancouver by Francis Horne Jr., a second-generation carver, as a 50th-birthday gift for Lee from Rosie and their son, Mark.

With so many birthdays and anniversaries, it's hard to get an exact count of the work that resides in this contemporary home. "It's definitely everywhere, and that's how we like it," says Rosie, a retired kindergarten teacher with a 40-year career in Haddonfield. (Every Halloween, more than a thousand trick-or-treaters converge at her house for treats.)

Lee, a matrimonial lawyer, practices as a partner in the law firm of Archer & Greiner in Haddonfield, teaches as an adjunct professor at Rutgers-Camden Law School, writes about law, and is a leader in the bar as a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Lee orients visitors to what they're about to encounter when entering the house. "We've concentrated on four areas," he explains. "We collect Inuit art, 20th-century prints, original illustrations of children's art, and Delaware Valley artists."

The categories are mixed, creating a diversity of subject, theme, style, and period. And yes, Lee and Rosie do all the hanging, sometimes shifting the pieces so central to the decor of their home designed in 1987.

Their contemporary collection includes works by such names as Robert Motherwell, Alexander Calder, Larry Rivers, Red Grooms, and Salvador Dali - and artists who aren't household names.

Case in point: their Inuit (also called Eskimo) art, which they began collecting in 1975 after falling in love with a calendar of Inuit illustrations. A Hymerling favorite: a print by Inuit artist Shuvinai Ashoona of a child in native dress performing a handstand.

There are also the original illustrations from children's books, even more meaningful now that they are new grandparents to 10-week-old Lucas.

More art fills upstairs rooms and hallways, the most personal being in the master bedroom, which has a brick fireplace and a loft. Oil portraits of the Hymerlings and their son hang side by side on one wall, created by South Jersey artist Laurie Wolfson.

Art may reign in this home, but there's also furniture with different textures and from different periods, and welcoming nooks, all illuminated by natural light.

In the dining room, which was expanded in a 2006 renovation, the addition of a full back wall of tall windows frames the landscape, and becomes an interior focal point.

The renovation expanded two second-floor bedrooms, and added an office, a bath, and a lower-level ping-pong room to accommodate Lee's addiction to the game. It also included an update of the kitchen, one that is vital to the Hymerlings' lifestyle.

At least three times a year, the couple host fund-raisers, the house filling with guests supporting the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Haddonfield's Markeim Arts Center, and the Garden State Discovery Museum.

The house rule: Rosie, a cook and baker, prefers to do all the food preparation herself. There's even a lower-level "staging area" with extra refrigerators and space to facilitate what amounts to a massive catering operation.

The kitchen also hosts a collection of copper from around the world and a painting of cups and saucers by Philip Carroll, a curator for the Perkins Center for the Arts.

The Hymerlings use every room. Rosie loves to sit in the eclectic living room, where another collection, glass paperweights, rests on a glass coffee table, creating a mirrored effect.

It's also home to a large standing pyramid that Rosie jubilantly "trash-picked," and a table created by Rosie's maternal grandfather, one of Queen Victoria's staff of cabinetmakers. In another corner is the miniaturized oxcart carried home from Costa Rica. "I love contrasts," says Rosie, who is a regular at local auctions.

The couple agree the home is meant to be shared with others. But for Rosie, it's also sanctuary.

"I grew up in the Vineland area, where my family never owned a home of our own," she says. "So having one filled with things I love will never be routine for me. It's something I appreciate every single day."