George Meredith: Collector Extraordinaire

A visit to the Merediths’ house, in Springs, is akin to stepping through more than a century’s worth of culture
George and Beth Meredith are collectors of paintings, sculpture, books, photography, and more. Above, Mr. Meredith discussed the artists represented in their extensive collection, in which local artists are emphasized. Durell Godfrey Photos

    The collections are smaller now, mostly donated or sold. But the stories and experiences cannot be diminished, and George and Beth Meredith have a surplus of all of the above.

    A visit to the Merediths’ house, in Springs, is akin to stepping through more than a century’s worth of culture: Art, photography, books, ceramics, and sculpture are on display both inside and out. A wealth of South Fork artists is represented, as are, in rare, exquisitely rendered portrait photography, demigods of literature, music, sports, and more.

    Mr. Meredith was co-founder, president, and creative director of Gianettino and Meredith, for many years the largest independently owned advertising agency in New Jersey. Unhappy at the agency they had worked for, he and Ron Gianettino established their own firm with “$3,000 and no accounts.” Mr. Meredith did, however, know Mel Karmazin, the broadcasting executive who was then head of the New York rock ’n’ roll radio station WNEW. “I went in and said, ‘I’d like your business.’ He said, ‘You’re welcome to it. I don’t advertise.’ ”

    Just a week later, however, Mr. Karmazin called Mr. Meredith with an urgent request. WNEW had a trade deal with The Village Voice and needed an advertisement on very short notice. Gianettino and Meredith commissioned an illustration, added a pithy tag line, and a memorable ad for an upcoming broadcast of a Grateful Dead concert was born. “It changed my life in a lot of ways,” Mr. Meredith said, “because that made Mel decide he wanted to spend money on advertising. It led to a lot of other business. A lot of our ads won awards, and we got a lot of publicity for them.”

    Of an estimated million words written, the adman said he was famous for exactly two. “In 1979, one of the stations, WKTU, converted to disco. For the next 13 weeks, they blew the ratings through the roof, and WNEW’s ratings were cut in half, I would say. Mel got into a panic.” Mr. Karmazin, with the late, legendary D.J. Scott Muni also on the line, summoned Mr. Meredith to their offices. “After we hung up, Scott called me back: ‘Get here. Mel’s talking about changing formats.’ ”

    Before the calls had ended Mr. Meredith was at work. “When Charlie Parker died, a couple of poets in the Village went all over town spray-painting ‘Bird Lives.’ And I literally wrote ‘Rock Lives’ at that moment. I got there and had a big piece of cardboard that said, ‘Disco sucks.’ I said, ‘You can’t say this, but you can say this.’ I turned it over and it said ‘Rock Lives.’ They bought that, and that was their theme for some 15 years.”

    His long experience in advertising, with its essential qualities of aesthetics, graphic design, and succinct messages, clearly played a part in the appreciation he brings to his and his wife’s extensive collections.

    In 2012, part of Mr. Meredith’s immense LP collection was featured in “Table Turners: Album Covers by Artists Who Hardly Ever Did Album Covers” at Innersleeve Records in Amagansett. The exhibition had been staged a decade earlier, however, at what was then the largest gallery in Los Angeles, Track 16, owned by a friend, the comedy writer Tom Patchett. “I did it in New York, too,” Mr. Meredith said of an exhibition at John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Bookseller on East 64th Street.

    Track 16 also staged Mr. Meredith’s “When What to My Wondering Eyes . . . ,” an exhibition of secular Christmas-themed art and literature from a collection he believes is the world’s largest. “That was a huge show and got lots of publicity,” he said. “The show was beautiful. It was a unique opportunity when you own something like that — you’d like people to see it.”

    The collection was later sold and donated, in stages, to Penn State University.    A show featuring portraits of authors was exhibited at Manhattan’s Grolier Club, the society for bibliophiles and graphic arts enthusiasts, where he is a member. Mr. Meredith’s collection of portraits numbers, by his estimate, 1,000 — many acquired through chance encounters and opportunities. The oversized prints offer rare depictions of the likes of Thomas Wolfe, James Agee, Isak Dinesen, Allen Ginsberg, James Joyce, Henry Miller, George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, and a young J.D. Salinger. “That’s really rare,” Mr. Meredith said of the Salinger, “because he didn’t let his picture be taken after this.”

    Jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Miles Davis, Sara Vaughn, and Mr. Parker, then 19, are pictured, along with baseball legends including Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Don Drysdale, and Duke Snider. Also depicted is a youthful Senator John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail and a portrait, by the late Bert Stern, of Natalie Wood. “Of all the photographs, it’s my favorite,” Mr. Meredith said. “Natalie Wood, as beautiful as could be.”

    The Merediths’ house is a veritable museum of visual art, with an emphasis on local artists. Elaine de Kooning, Eric Ernst, Dan Christensen, Audrey Flack, Donald Kennedy, David Gilhooly, Joe Zucker, Hans Van de Bovenkamp, and Randall Rosenthal are but a fraction of the names represented. Even the late Zero Mostel is here: “He was a painter before he was ever an actor,” Mr. Meredith said.

    A rare Andy Warhol print is prominent. “This is a printed proof, and there were 30 others printed. Every one of them, the colors are different. I lucked into this piece at an auction.”

    One striking portrait is a photograph of Picasso by Gjon Mili, a pioneering photographer who used stroboscopic light to capture multiple actions in a single image. “He spent three days and shot over 300 pictures of Picasso,” Mr. Meredith said. “But this is the best one, I think.”

    The Merediths’ appreciation of culture extends to popular music, and on summer nights they might be found at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, rubbing shoulders with fellow patrons like Mick Jagger and Jon Bon Jovi. “I don’t know if we’d live here if it wasn’t for the Talkhouse,” Mr. Meredith said. “We’d have to go to Manhattan every time we wanted to see and hear the people we love.”

George and Beth Meredith’s art collection includes Randall Rosenthal’s “Steve McQueen,” carved from a single block of Vermont white pine.