The love for art and philanthropy has always been present in Lynda Resnick’s life—she was only 18 when she made her first art purchase. With the launch of Microfreaks, the entrepreneur and co-owner of The Wonderful Company has combined her passion for art and her commitment to the community of Lost Hills, California. By involving artists Niki and Simon Haas with a group of talented women in California’s rural Central Valley community, she managed to break through the virtual cocoon the women lived in, and created a source of sustained income and a sense of empowerment.
You first met Niki and Simon Haas through a mutual art dealer connection in Aspen, Colorado, and they mentioned that you immediately clicked, that the three of you had an instant connection. So we’re wondering how your relationship with the Haas Brothers has evolved since that first meeting, especially now since you’re embarking on this incredible project together.
We met in Aspen through the art dealer Jeanne Rohatyn. It was love at first sight. We quickly became friends, and I would invite them to dinner parties here in Los Angeles. I hired the Haas Brothers to do a commission of two beautiful eight-foot-long benches and started collecting their art.
Through that process, we became even closer. One day, when they were over for dinner, Simon was bemoaning the fact that he was having trouble with his beading commissions with the Haas Sisters of Cape Town, South Africa because he couldn’t find anyone who could do the specific type of intricate beading that he needed for a new project. In that moment, the light bulb went off, and I said, “I have beaders for you.” The ladies in Lost Hills were not trained as beaders, but they had fine handwork that I was so familiar with—and I was looking for this opportunity for them. It was like two comets met in the air and there was an enormous explosion of happiness. I had been trying for years to bring in artists and artisans up to the Valley, but I didn’t know where to begin. I was inspired by what Donna Karan was doing in Haiti, but it wasn’t until the Haas Brothers came up to Lost Hills that this magic could occur. They taught the women the craft, but the women had the talent.
You once said, “Art expands the mind, unites communities and pushes people to challenge their assumptions, and makes the world a better place,” which is an amazing quote. So by uniting the women of Lost Hills, California with the Haas Brothers, you’ve created a community and you’ve expanded horizons, so what do you see as the next challenge? Are there other assumptions you’d like to change with the help of art—in this case, with the help of Microfreaks and the beading work?
The only reason this worked is because Simon and Niki were so involved from the get-go. They didn’t leave it to chance. We had other artists come in after them who just kind of threw the work at the women and said “do your best,” but they didn’t try to train them, which is a small investment to make in the beginning, but it reaps great benefits. As with anything in life, you really need to educate people for something like this. In business, I always call it the difference between the long-short way and the short-long way. It takes the same amount of time, but if you take it long in the beginning, the end is shorter. If you take the shortcut, the end is longer and sometimes it doesn’t make it at all.
“When you’re working with art, it lifts you in a way that can’t be measured.”
— Lynda Resnick, on the value of dignity and creativity in work
Regarding what I see in the future and what I hope the impact will be, I hope that people will understand—when this becomes more famous (if it does), if the sweetness of the story grows and captures people’s attention—I’m hoping that they’ll realize the great and the vast amount of quality workmanship from artisans that can be found all over rural America. You don’t have to go to Haiti to get your work done. If you spend the time and you find these pockets of women—and men—who do fine handwork knitting or sewing in the Appalachians or the South, you really can change the course of art. And when you’re working with art rather than working with pipes or tires, it lifts you in a way that can’t be measured.
What was the biggest surprise when bringing the Microfreaks to life, and do you have a favorite Microfreak?
They’re my children. Do you have a favorite child? Did your mother have a favorite child? If she does, she ain’t gonna tell you who it is [laughs]. No, I love them all, and I guess the biggest surprise is how brilliantly they turned out. I’ve been very hands-on with this project. I’m a micromanager in general because that’s the way I work, but I was so passionate about this that they couldn’t get me out of Niki and Simon’s studio. We brainstormed all the time, and the project was lifted up higher and higher. At first, we were only going to do one collection. Now we have three. We may even do a fourth, because the ideas just keep coming, and we’ll see how well they sell, but if they’re the runaway success that we think they’re going to be, then collectors can look for more.
“Lynda Resnick as a creative partner, business partner, mentor and friend has been a tremendous force in our lives and to the women of Lost Hills.”
— The Haas Brothers, on working with Lynda Resnick
You’re known for your sense of entrepreneurship and social responsibility. How does the Microfreaks and the Haas Brothers’ initiative compare with other projects that you’ve been involved with in the past? You’ve been tremendously generous with your resources, so how does this run a little bit different?
Well, it’s different because it involves my great passion, which is art. But of course, I’m passionate about healthcare and education and the environment, because these are the things we invest in. But it has that special something, because it is art-related, and there’s a piece of me in every one of these things, as well as the Lost Hills women, so it just makes me so happy. But of course, if you see me with my Kindergarten classes—the Wonderful Education programs in Delano and Lost Hills—you’ll see me just as happy with the kids, with their little arms around my legs saying, “Miss Lynda, Miss Lynda.” I am blessed because I do have a lot of happiness in life, and of course this is just one of the things.
I’ve become very close to these ladies, and the transformation in their lives from being housebound, from not having much hope for the future, from being dependent upon their husbands to bring home that paycheck, and feeling—believe me, they’re as smart as you and me, there is nothing, nothing different about these women than you and me besides luck and privilege. We were lucky enough to be born into a household where our parents could put a roof over our head and give us an education, and they were not as lucky. The chance to raise them up to the level that they belong is the greatest happiness of all. They discovered a talent that they didn’t even know they possessed. It couldn’t be a better experience.
Is there a certain type of art that you collect? How do you choose what you collect, and what advice would you give to someone just starting out?
We’ve been collecting in earnest for about 45 years, we frankly didn’t have the money before that. But I made my first art purchase of a Howard Chandler Christy poster when I was 18 years old, and I started paying it off a few dollars a week so I could get the poster. Art has always been a great passion of mine, and I even thought as a child that I would become an artist because I’m talented in that area, but I went into business instead. Of course, my artistic bent is different, and here at my company it’s certainly not forgotten. In the beginning, the only thing Stewart and I could agree on were Old Masters pictures. We have a big collection of 18th-century French pictures, but in the last five years we started collecting more modern pictures. We have several Picassos. We have a major Picasso that we just purchased last year. We also have a fair amount of German Expressionists. We have a Max Beckmann, a Pechstein and a Gabriele Münter, and we bought a Kirchner recently, so we love German Expressionists. I’ve gone from candy box art to the toughest art in the world, which is German Expressionists and modern Picassos. It’s been a complete change, but I love it all. I love ceramics, I love 20th-century furniture: Art Deco, Modernist and Mid-Century. And I just love everything that’s beautiful and has value.
Our offices are filled with contemporary art because we feel that if people are around this art, it inspires them. It’s interesting because we never really bought anything more than $25,000, but some of them are worth more than $250,000 now because we made some good purchases—and others are worthless, but that’s okay. My thought to young collectors is educate yourself by looking. A friend of mine, a big art dealer in the ’60s and ’70s, always said look with your eyes, don’t read things. Because it either will make you respond with your heart or not. In reality, if the painting doesn’t sing to me, no matter what it’s worth, I wouldn’t buy it.
Emerging artists are fun, the aura around the whole industry of emerging contemporary art is a fun thing to be a part of. When I was collecting Old Masters, I could never meet the artists—I’m old, but I’m not that old. And so, when you collect contemporary art rather than modern or Old Masters, you really get a chance to meet the artists and just see where they’re coming from and what their passions are, and it’s a fun way to collect. That’s my best advice that I can give.