How do you describe Harley Baldwin… Successful businessman, entrepreneur, art lover, philanthropist? Harley fits all of those descriptions, but when you meet the man, there’s a whole lot more to him than can be described. Most of all, he’s a visionary with a zest for life and an incredible sense of self, who he is and what he likes. Harley truly enjoys life!
I didn’t know anything about Harley or his lifestyle before this interview. He invited me for tea at his 6,000 square foot home above the Caribou Club. It’s situated on the top floor of the 1892 Collins Building, which also houses the Baldwin Gallery and boutiques such as Fendi, Dior and Louis Vuitton. The first thing I learned about Harley is that he owns a big chunk of Aspen. Besides the Caribou Club, he owns the Baldwin Gallery, the Brand Hotel and several acres of prime undeveloped real estate. But, that’s only the beginning. Harley is a multi-faceted person with a string of interests and a personality that encompasses a sense of humor and a strong love of laughter. “ People around here all know me. If they need a plumber, a reservation or a painting, they know I’m the guy to see.” At any time, you can find his eclectic group of friends, locals, artists, cowboys, hippies and the rich and privileged enjoying his amazing hospitality in the warmth and charm of his lovely and comfortable home.
He doesn’t have an office, doesn’t have a secretary and can do business at his home, on the ski slope, hiking or biking. “That’s the great thing about Aspen. I can work anywhere. One day, I was riding the gondola up the mountain to do a little skiing and I sold two Rosenquists for $850,000. My client was on a boat in Sydney Harbor. I work very hard to make it look easy!”
Harley arrived in Aspen in 1968 with a total of $1,200 in his pocket. He purchased his first home, a very ugly trailer in an even uglier trailer park, for $1000. That left him with $200 and he bought himself an 1893 popcorn wagon, taught himself how to make crepes and opened his first business. This same popcorn wagon is still in use on the mall and can be seen from Harley’s terrace. According to Harley, “ I’ve been involved in almost every business you can find in a mountain resort town.” When I asked him what kept him in Aspen, he replied, “Aspen is the most cultural small town in the world. It has the intellectual amenities of any one of the great cities of the world but in a very small town. The result: you are apt to run into one of the world’s greatest painters, a great economist, physicist, or a great writer and you’ll also run into the people that love them.”
Harley has very good instincts in business. His successful endeavors can be seen throughout Aspen. One of these successes is The Baldwin Gallery, which is run by his partner, Richard Edwards. I asked Harley how the gallery had become known as the most important contemporary art gallery between New York and Los Angeles. “ Before we were in business, the art world was run like a 14th century Medieval Guild. Any gallery outside of New York had to go through an important New York gallery in order to show an important artist. It was like Rome telling Gaul.”
Harley has always had his own way of doing things. “ We decided, essentially, that we were either going to be dealing with artists directly or we were going to go out of the business. It was 1994 and it was the bottom of a debacle. The art world had crashed in 1990. We got in at the very bottom. Even famous artists were looking for dealers with enthusiasm and a bit of money. It was obvious to me that the art world was like a pyramid and we wanted to be at the top of the pyramid.”
Harley felt that in order to be successful, he had to break the old rules. “ The clients we have wouldn’t be interested in us if we had to go through New York art dealers. We’d be second string. Aspen is the kind of town where people want to know that they are dealing with the real thing. It’s an amazing little town. Dealing in art, you have to have a sophisticated clientele and Aspen has it.”
Richard now runs the gallery. He swapped a career as a top international lawyer to join Harley in Aspen. Harley continues to deal with the artists. “ At a typical moment, we will have two or three shows running simultaneously, all of which are worthy of a major museum.”
Caribou Jewelry is one of his latest business ventures. “ I decided to create a jewelry store that would be run like an art gallery. So, Richard and I went around the world and found jewelers that deal with jewelry as art, where precious stones become their oil paints. We have Munnu from Jaipur, Cecilia Rodriques from San Paulo, Brazil, Verdura, Mish New York, and Elizabeth Locke. We are very excited that we can commission pieces for our clientele.”
Harley believes in giving back. “Twenty-five percent of my time goes to non-profits.” His biggest passion is the Aspen Music Festival. As a board member he is very involved in the marketing effort to get young people excited about classical music. As Harley tells it, “It’s impossible to have a well-rounded life without understanding classical music.” He’s a co-chair for the Aspen Art Museum’s big winter benefit and sits on the board of the Aspen Valley Community Foundation, which supports the infrastructure of Aspen. Harley always says what he thinks. “The Foundation is like the United Way in supporting things that might fall through the cracks. They support organizations that are less glamorous, but they don’t support homophobic organizations like the Boy Scouts, even though I was one.” Harley’s newest involvement is with the Aspen Institute. “ For several years the institute has been quite boring. Now, it’s quickly changing. The new CEO, Walter Issacson, who has run CNN and Time Magazine, is absolutely brilliant. He’s the man for the job. All of a sudden everyone in Aspen is very excited about being involved in the institute once again.”
Harley loves the great parties given by the non-profits. His favorites include the Aspen Music Festival cocktail party, the Art Museum benefit on December 28th and Aspen Art Museum’s annual “Howl at the Moon” gala.
It’s not all work and no play for Harley and Richard. They travel constantly, taking their dogs, Max and Emma, wherever they travel. They just returned from Venice and are going to Istanbul in September. A typical trip might include a stop in Naples, then a trip to Rome with the Fendi sisters, a visit to Roberto in Florence and a drive through Tuscany with his friend Gucci.
When I asked Harley what he thought the future held for him, he replied, “ More of the same. I think my life is perfect. I love to do what I do and absolutely love my life. I’m with the best and brightest people in the world. I’ve created a life I wanted to live. I sort of live above the store. It’s fabulous!
As Harley walked me to the door and we stood looking at his building and the magnificent storefronts, he said, “ Look to the left, over there. That’s Smuggler Mountain. I bought property there twenty-eight years ago and I’ve just donated twenty acres of it to Aspen for open space.” That pretty much sums up Harley Baldwin, a man who knows how to live and how to give.