Wall to Wall Art

Park West Gallery and Dearborn’s The Henry team up to decorate a ’boutique’ hotel
Photographs courtesy of Mike Snodgrass

When the four-star hotel in Dearborn’s Town Center was part of the Ritz-Carlton chain, it had a multipurpose space known as The Gallery. In 2010, the facility changed hands, becoming the Henry Hotel Autograph Collection, and the new owners decided to retain the room’s name.

Then a real gallery moved in.

“When they said, ‘We’d like to put you down here,’ I asked, ‘What’s the Gallery?'” recalls Mike Snodgrass, the curator employed by Southfield’s renowned Park West Gallery to maintain what’s believed to be the largest in-house art collection at any hotel in the world. “They said, ‘That’s a function room! We can’t give you that room!’

“I said, ‘But it’s … the Gallery! … People are going to walk in and ask, ‘Where’s the gallery?’ And they’ll be looking for me over there.”

Eventually, they reached a compromise: The room is still known as “The Gallery,” but now it actually looks like a gallery, replete with gentle track lighting and complementary paintings adorning every wall.

But the Henry’s fine art isn’t confined to one area, or even two.

Paintings and sculptures align the corridor from the lobby to the guest elevators, filling the hallway with color. Different artists decorate the walls of the Henry’s 11 guest floors, including celebrated masters such as Pablo Picasso, Itzchak Tarkay, Yaacov Agam (whose pieces fill the 10th floor), and Peter Max (the 11th). Each of the 308 guest rooms contains at least four works, created exclusively for The Henry by three of Park West’s local artists, Dominic Pangborn, Tim Yanke, and Marcus Glenn.

That works out to more than 475 pieces in the Henry’s common areas and nearly 1,500 in the rooms. Snodgrass acknowledges this is no small feat. “Yeah,” he says, “there’s a lot of art.”

When the Ritz became the Henry, one of 44 Autograph Collection boutique hotels in the Marriott chain and named for Revolutionary War hero Henry Dearborn, the new owners wanted to do everything they could to distance the property from its hoity-toity past. A design team came in to refurbish the hotel virtually from top to bottom (save for the ballrooms, which will be renovated this fall), but there was a feeling that still more could be done.

“We joke with our group and meeting customers about the quietness of a Ritz-Carlton and the library-type feel you get,” says Alan Osborne, the Henry’s director of sales and marketing. “Then you pass by the noblemen, the colonial ships, and the fox hunts! If you’ve ever been to a Ritz-Carlton, you know that’s [the art] you get. Not a single person looks at them! They were like part of the walls.

“Certainly our hotel has been transformed with new color schemes and what the decorator has done, but all the beautiful artwork here now has just created a fascinating palette. It’s been awesome.”

Park West, the world’s largest art dealer, already had a few paintings scattered throughout the Ritz-Carlton when Snodgrass, 34, a jack-of-all-trades who was handling off-site art sales for the gallery at the time, got a call from the hotel’s new management.

“Actually, we were debating what to do with that relationship,” Snodgrass recalls. “They asked, ‘Can you come here for a meeting? We’ve got some ideas about the hotel.’ I said, ‘I don’t know who you are, but sure.’

“They explained that the hotel was changing hands [and they] couldn’t tell me the name,” he says. “It was all a big mystery. But they said, ‘We want to be a boutique art hotel, and we want to create a partnership with you to display your art.’

“OK,” Snodgrass said. “What’s it going to cost us?”

“‘Nothing. We’ll give you a place on-site where you can put up a little gallery, you can place your art all over, and we’re just asking for cooperation and working together so we can advertise this as a boutique art hotel.'”

That, Snodgrass says, was worth taking back to management.

Park West founder and CEO Albert Scaglione wasted no time approving the deal, and soon new art was accenting the Henry — even its fitness center is equipped with Muhammad Ali boxing gloves, posters, and other mementos from Park West’s collection of memorabilia. Its extensive array of animation cels from classic Warner Bros. cartoons is also on hand. “This is one of the few places you’ll see [a] Picasso hanging next to Yosemite Sam,” Snodgrass says.

From his gallery — the vest-pocket space given to him by the hotel, not the multipurpose ballroom — Snodgrass conducts tours of the collection on Saturdays and offers a free print to every guest who stops by his display room between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The artwork hanging on the walls, of course, is for sale — at a discounted Henry price.

The celebrities and sports figures the hotel attracts would seem natural customers for high-end art, and Snodgrass says one of the first pieces he sold was to U.S. Soccer national team captain Clint Dempsey. But the Henry’s unwritten policy, Snodgrass says, is “they have to approach me; I can’t approach them.”

Perhaps the only piece that’s not on sale is too big to fit in the car anyway. It’s the gargantuan 7-by-12.5-foot Yanke painting hanging behind the front desk, specially commissioned by the Henry to mark its first anniversary in 2011. The largest work Yanke has ever attempted (and likely his most challenging, too) consists of 26 individual color panels.

“It’s derivative of a series called American Flatlands, where I challenged myself to take my abstracts in a whole different direction,” Yanke says.

The artistic experience, which is introducing Park West to a new audience apart from its primary business on luxury cruise ships, has even filtered into Tria, the hotel’s ultramodern main restaurant. “Now people come out of the bar with a glass of wine, and you’ll see them walking up and down looking at the art like they’re in a gallery,” Osborne says. “It gives a kind of urban edge to us. It’s very cosmopolitan.”

Now the Henry’s art is practically flying off the hotel’s walls.

“One of the biggest questions we get is, ‘You just leave all this valuable artwork hanging out on the walls?’ ” says Snodgrass. “Yes, because No. 1, that’s the whole idea of Park West — that we want art to be approachable. Also, there’s a whole lot more eyes on it than you might think because the staff loves it, and the clientele is more upscale. We really haven’t had any problems.”

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