May 2013

The Leyendecker View

The Elusive Definition of Success

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"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Welcome to the Leyendecker View
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"Searching for Sugar Man" - a film that looks at the musical career of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer with a poetic, lyrical style akin to Bob Dylan - took home this year's Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. In the early 1970s, Rodriguez sang about the toils of the working class man and resistance to establishment thinking. His songs were poignant, his voice unique, rich and often dubbed better than Dylan's. No doubt, he was poised for meteoric success, just like Dylan. 


Meanwhile, in 1970s South Africa, the nation was plagued by apartheid. The media was state-controlled, and heavy propaganda, censorship and sanctions left South Africans isolated from reality and the rest of the world.


Enter bootlegged copies of Rodriguez's two albums, which immediately appealed to South African youth. Rodriguez sang of sex, love and drugs - subjects censored by the government, and obviously titillating to kids who'd never heard such lyrics before.


It was, however, Rodriguez's songs about defying establishment that resonated most with sequestered South Africans and catapulted him to national notoriety. His words inspired clusters of South Africans to take a stand against apartheid. Soon, Rodriguez's music was the catalyst to a revolution. In South Africa, he was bigger than Elvis and more influential and beloved than the Beatles - and remained so for decades.


By all accounts, Rodriguez was an abnormally successful musician; not only was his music wildly popular, but he was also a cultural icon, providing the soundtrack to an uprising.


The twist? He had no idea. His albums were a total flop in the U.S. His record label quickly dropped him, and by the early 1970s, Rodriguez had returned to his normal life, moving from one manual labor job to the next and barely living above poverty.


It was not until the late 1990s that Rodriguez learned of his success as a musician, when a couple of South Africans, determined to learn more about their lyrical hero, tracked him down. He was still living in Detroit and still nearly in poverty. He never saw a dime from royalties, his cult status and fame completely unknown to him.


The film is engrossing, and we recommend it. It leaves the viewer asking many big questions, including about the nature and definition of success. When watching, one can't help but be acutely aware that our modern day definition of success rests largely in its rewards, not the goal and the moment of its achievement or its power to inspire others. And one can't help but sense that, even as Rodriguez hopped from odd job to odd job with apparent contentment, his life was always a success to him.


Aristotle said this of success: "The only way to achieve true success is to express yourself completely in service to society. First, have a definite, clear, practical ideal, a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends, wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end."


Etymologically speaking, it was not until relatively recently that the definition of success came to include "the attainment of wealth, position, honors or the like." Its longer historical meaning was merely that which had a positive outcome.  


That doesn't sound quite like the success we prize in our society today, where McMansions were so coveted, we tanked an economy for them. Why this shift in the definition of success, away from the individual's defined objective to the observable reward?


Writer and philosopher Alain de Botton blames this devolution on rampant snobbery, particularly job snobbery, which he believes defines our time and creates a perfect storm of constant career anxiety and self-consciousness. We live in an era where "What do you do?" is the first question we get asked upon meeting someone. The answer often fully directs the course of conversation.


de Botton rightly notes that we are highly susceptible to suggestion, and our perceptions of success are often an amalgam of outside influence, chiefly from our parents, peers, marketers, media, etc. In the age of Internet and over-sharing, there are countless more forces putting their suggestions on us. As pressure mounts to measure up to a perception of success, the material goods that our success can buy come under greater importance and scrutiny. de Botton argues that it is actually not the material good we want, but the reward of it to validate our success.


In a world where a musician like Sixto Rodriguez, still of relatively measured means and limited notoriety, and one like Justin Bieber can both be called a success, how can one definition apply to both such starkly contrasting tales of success? 


Perhaps the secret of success is what Aristotle was getting at: That success is measured by how we ourselves define it, period. If that is accurate, then there should be roughly 7 billion definitions of success.


So here's to defining your own success, free from outside suggestion and without care for its rewards. Cut out the noise, dig deep for your personal life objective and clearly focus upon it. 


And then take a page from Sixto Rodriguez, and remember that for those of us who are lucky, success comes when we are ready, and can never come too late - and maybe was there all along. Don't miss yours.

Rodriguez on 60 Minutes


Read on for some thoughts on the elusive meaning of success and ideas on how to define it for yourself.


"What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night  

and in between does what he wants to do."

- Bob Dylan

General Economic Perspectives
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How do you solve a very large and very complex problem?


A few weeks ago, we watched the latest crisis du jour develop into the latest solution of the moment to not let anything fail. Our global economic system isn't full of just too big to fail, it's also full of too small to fail.


When Greece teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, many wondered why such an inconsequential economy was so important to the global economy. Yet we recently witnessed fear and political cajoling to "save" Cypress, itself a fraction of the Greek economy.


So which country is next? Many believe France is headed to crisis headlines sooner than later. How can an economy where fifty percent of workers are employed by government actually be sustainable? 


The brightest economic minds suggest that France, like Italy, is really too big to save. But of course when France comes to the table broke and in need of its own bailout, by hook or by crook, a solution will be found. No one wants the alternative, for the alternative could be as dark as a global economic meltdown.


So what's the solution? It would seem you solve a very large and very complex problem by breaking it apart into smaller, more manageable parts. The decision makers in Europe seem to be doing just the opposite. 


As we've said here before, the more interconnected we are, the more interdependent we become. 


Today, the power of self-preservation extends beyond national pride. Too big to fail is playing out in European countries, as it did with American banks in 2008. Everyone must sacrifice, even strong countries like Germany, for the alternative is a pandemic economic disaster.

The Hiring Market
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Thank goodness for the natural resources boom in the United States. One doesn't need to dig deep into statistics to understand the economic benefits of our current shale boom. Without the need for government stimulation, billions of dollars are being invested, wealth is being created, jobs are exploding, tax receipts are up and fortunate geographies are experiencing economic euphoria. As a Boston investor said to me recently, "Oil & Gas is the new Internet!" Hmm...Maybe it is.


It will take years to build out the oil & gas infrastructure needed to extract and transport this explosion of hydrocarbon production. It will take more years to construct the billions of dollars of assets that have been announced to process the hydrocarbons into raw material for manufacturing and production of other stuff. And then we may see another period of economic growth, building new manufacturing and production facilities to ultimately turn our bounty of hydrocarbon-based raw material into the new needs and wants of consumers around the world.


Is Houston the next Silicon Valley, where the best and brightest young minds congregate and innovation explodes? Seeing all the out of state license plates around town certainly seems to support this claim. Maybe what we are seeing is a shift from the technology boom of the 1980s and 1990s to a natural resources boom of this and the next decade.


"Go west, young man" may just have become "Head to Texas as fast as you can."

Managing the Modern Day
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The Parable of The Fisherman And The Banker   


An investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a quaint coastal fishing village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.


The banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the fisherman how long it took to catch them. The fisherman replied, "Only a little while." The banker then asked the fisherman why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish.


The fisherman replied he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.


The banker then asked "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"


The fisherman replied, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor." 


The banker scoffed, "You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution." Then he added, "Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to big city where you would run your growing enterprise."


The fisherman asked, "But señor, how long will this all take?"


To which the banker replied, "Fifteen to twenty years."


"But what then?" asked the fisherman.


The banker laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company and become very rich. You could make millions!!!"


"Millions, señor? Then what?"


To which the banker replied, "Then you would retire. You could move to a quaint coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."

BLS Corner
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Newly released 2011 labor productivity and unit labor costs among manufacturing industries:


BLS labor chart

Labor productivity-defined as output per hour-increased in 13 of 21 manufacturing industries in 2011. Output increased in 16 of these industries, and hours declined in 10. Unit labor costs fell in 10 of 21 manufacturing industries in 2011.


Among manufacturing industries in 2011, productivity rose fastest in textile product mills (6.6 percent), where output increased despite a drop in hours. Only 3 of the 21 industries registered greater productivity growth, or smaller productivity declines, than in the previous year.


In 2011, unit labor costs declined more frequently in manufacturing industries where productivity rose, as productivity gains offset increases in hourly compensation. Unit labor costs fell in 9 of the 13 industries where productivity rose.

Chart of the Month
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Total Tonnage In and out of the Port of Houston: 2001 - 2012  


The Port of Houston is the first ranked U.S. port in foreign tonnage, meaning the weight of containers that land in our port. It's the second largest port in the U.S., second only to the Port of South Louisiana. Since 2001, the total tonnage of containers in and out of our port has increased 79%, and the Port of Houston is poised to take the number one spot. Given how oil & gas is booming our economy, we expect that day to come soon.   


Note: Los Angeles is the number one U.S. port in terms of container traffic. Houston comes in at seven.


Total Port Tonnage

Source: Port of Houston Authority
The Elusive Definition of Success
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"Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in,  

and it will come naturally."

- David Frost


TED Talk: Alain de Botton on a kinder, gentler philosophy of success


Alain de Botton on Success

Alain de Botton on defining success:

Alain de Botton, author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, notices it's easier now to make a decent living, and harder than ever to be free of career anxiety. Never before have expectations been so high about what we can achieve in our lifetimes. We are constantly told that we're all equal and all equally capable of achieving tremendous success. But, he argues, we are not all equal and there are too many random factors that can help or hinder our pursuit of success. The mismatch between expectations and reality is resulting in a stream of career crises, and widespread low self-esteem and anxiety.


To find a "gentler" definition of success, he urges recognition that with each success comes some loss, and that our ideas of success are often not our own, to our own anguish. Instead, one is well served to think about what it is he wants and ensure he is the author of his own ambition.


Conan O'Brien's commencement speech to Dartmouth's class of 2011 


Conan's commencement speech at Dartmouth

Conan O'Brien on defining success:

In this poignant commencement speech to Dartmouth's class of 2011, O'Brien says of his highly public loss of "The Tonight Show" that, "there are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized." O'Brien describes a career obsessed with hosting "The Tonight Show" as the only possible crowning achievement, the ultimate indicator of success. So focused was he on the reward that he failed to recognize that his goals and dreams would change, along with his perception of success. (If you're pressed for time, skip to the 15-minute mark of the video, where O'Brien begins his discussion on success and failure.)


Follow this link for a few other commencement speeches that emphasize the importance of defining your own success.


The secret of Malcolm Gladwell's success


Gladwell on Success 


Malcolm Gladwell on defining success:

Gladwell debunks the notion that every great success is the result of extraordinary genius. Instead, he defines success as when someone does something that strikes a chord, and opportunities follow. His personal take is that people are happiest when doing what they love, no matter how idiosyncratic it is. Taking the emphasis off the reward and putting it on the love of what one is doing, Gladwell suggests that success will follow, or it won't. Either way, you're doing something you love.


9 rules for success by British novelist, Amelia E. Barr, 1901 

Sometimes the best advice is that which has stood some test of time. A turn of the century, critically acclaimed British writer by the name of Amelia E. Barr logged nine tips for success. As a female author admired in her own time, she probably knew a thing or two. A favorite: "No opposition must be taken to heart. Our enemies often help us more than our friends. Besides, a head-wind is better than no wind. Who ever got anywhere in a dead calm?" Read on for other pearls of her wisdom.


What extremely successful people were doing at age 25

At age 25, Arianna Huffington was trotting from one international music festival to the next. Howard Schultz was selling Xerox machines. Lloyd Blankfein was a lawyer and, apparently, an unhappy one at that. While some of us were changing the world from a garage by 25, most of us were still trying to get a hold on what might inspire us, what we wanted to do, what would result in success. And that is ok, as the often-meandering pursuit of defining our own happiness is a worthy one.


"Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered,  and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds."

- Orison Swett Marden

News You Can Use
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The Economy

Global light patterns show economic shift to the East

The amount of light a city emits is correlated to its economic prowess. Over the last 17 years, night light levels have been steadily shifting to the eastern hemisphere - particularly obvious is Shenzen, China and the Nile Delta in north Africa. New York City's light emissions still dominate globally. The only major metropolitan region in the western hemisphere that has seen significantly increasing light emissions is Milan.


City Light  


The Economist: Thought for food 


Cost of food 

People in wealthier countries tend to spend less on food as a share of overall income; yet, as food costs decline, so too does food quality. (See the recent scandal in Europe about "beef" that actually contained horse meat.) People in poorer countries spend a far higher portion of income on food, approaching 50% in Cameroon. We in the U.S. put the smallest fraction of our income to food, coming in at just 14%.




13 habits of extraordinary bosses

Part of being a great boss is knowing how to bring out the greatness in those around you. Here are 5 of the 13 habits that extraordinary bosses do to be great leaders:

  • Collaborate rather than grandstand
  • Laugh at problems (and themselves)
  • Mentor and coach 
  • Create a climate of trust 
  • Tell the truth, even when inconvenient 

What losing my job taught me about leading

Douglas Conant, former CEO of the Campbell Soup Company, recalls a consuming sense of bitterness and victimhood when once fired. The experience landed him under the guidance of an outplacement counselor, who taught Conant the power of being present with people. It wasn't until Conant got disconnected from his job that he understood the importance of connecting with people. Simply making a habit of acknowledging those around you - with your time, or gratitude - will expand your network, an asset to anyone in need of a job or needing to inspire a team.


Management & Hiring

Talent executive says annual performance reviews are huge morale killers 

Plenty of data shows that annual performance reviews demotivate by reducing people's yearlong efforts to a conversation and a number. High ratings don't correlate to performance, and a poor review can create bitterness. A more effective approach can be to trade the infrequent review for constant reviews. A habit of regular conversations about performance in real-time allows employees to grow accustomed to feedback, and everyone avoids the discomfort of the annual review.


Two words that drive bosses crazy, and what to do about it as the boss 

"Yeah, but..." - two words spoken from employee to manager that frustrate and can result in impasse. To redirect the conversation towards a solution:

  • Understand all the circumstances around the employee's resistance to unearth an underlying problem.
  • Ask the employee to suggest a solution and help the person feel empowered.
  • Provide your best advice, and ask the employee to try implementing it.

The point of this process is to help the employee move from complaint-paralysis mode to solution-seeking mode.

The Local Scene
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The TLV Entrepreneur Interview: Paul & Matt Reeves of Reeves Antiques and Cool Stuff

Houston is not only an ideal environment for entrepreneurship, it is also a town of enterprising and innovative minds. In the TLV Entrepreneur Interview, we celebrate Houston's entrepreneurial spirit and gain insights from those who drive it and have made careers of doing what they love.


In this issue, we'd like to introduce you to Paul and Matt Reeves, the father-son team behind Reeves Antiques and Cool Stuff.


Reeves Antiques


TLV: Matt, you obviously were born after 1969. So Paul, tell us how you started this business.

Paul: It was 1969 and my brother and I were looking for a way to make some money. We started buying everything inside houses from people who were moving out of the country, or people who had passed away. This was before the modern version of estate sales. We'd buy out a house and then make money by selling its contents piecemeal.


TLV: And that became an antique business?

Paul: Yes, my brother eventually left the effort and I carried on. Over time I stopped buying everything in a house. I learned which things were more valuable and eventually focused mostly on antique furniture. Things seemed to grow naturally, but then of course I was always putting in lots of hours, with my hand in the business all the time. Managing a business takes daily diligence.


TLV: So when did your son Matt enter the picture?

Paul: Matt was born in 1986. He grew up in our warehouse store. He was always here when we were buying things, taking inventory, selling, delivering, whatever...Matt was sort of bred into the business. As a kid and teenager, I'd let Matt buy things and put them on the floor to sell. It was a way for Matt to make a little money and have a little fun.


TLV: And so it was natural for you, Matt, to follow in your father's footsteps?

Matt: No, not at all. I didn't want to follow in my dad's footsteps. I didn't like the antique business. To me we were selling old people's furniture. It wasn't cool. It wasn't interesting. I didn't want to sell grandma's furniture.


TLV: So, how did you eventually join the effort?

Matt: I went to college at U of H, focusing on entrepreneurship since that seemed natural to me. But after graduation, I still didn't know what I wanted to do, so I looked into law school. That wasn't interesting at all. I had this apartment that was full of what you might call "modern antiques," things from the 40s, 50s and 60s. It's the kind of stuff I like. My apartment was overloaded, so one day I put a couch out front of the store just to see if anyone found it interesting. It sold, and then we put another piece out, and it sold.


TLV: Today, both of your stores have transitioned from carrying "grandma's antiques" to mid-century modern. How did you make the transition? Did you write a business plan?

Matt: No business plan. No way. It was just a feeling, comes out of your gut. I told dad we should sell everything in the store, all of grandma's old stuff, and then replace it with this new mid-century modern stuff. We debated a lot about it. It took a while for him to let go.


I felt the furniture market would embrace this new concept. People were changing their tastes. Lots of young people were moving to Houston. Probably half of our sales are to people who have moved here from New York or California, where this kind of style is already happening.


TLV: So it wasn't easy for you, Paul, to let go?

Paul: It was and it wasn't. I was tired of the business, bored. Inventory wasn't turning. In the 2000s, people seemed to stop buying antiques. I had a store full of antiques that people weren't buying. I was ready to retire but I didn't know what else to do with my life. It was interesting to see Matt's furniture style sell. It wasn't an easy decision but I finally caved in and we auctioned off the entire inventory of antiques in one weekend. Forty years of my life went out the door immediately. It was heartbreaking, but then also very liberating.


TLV: So how does it feel now?

Paul: I've never been happier. It was very difficult letting go, and very difficult letting my son take charge. But he's done an awesome job. Look at this store, look at our warehouse, it's full of really, really cool stuff. And we're selling things as fast as we can get our hands on it.


TLV: You're 26-years-old, Matt, what's the future look like to you?

Matt: I'm loving every minute of what I do. I live above the warehouse. I live the business. We're selling all this really cool mid-century furniture and art. The art is especially interesting to me. We're refurbishing furniture, to give it another life. We've even started to make some of our own furniture, designing based upon these old styles, and using the local crafts folks who helped my dad with this antique business. I wouldn't trade my lifestyle for anyone's. You can't put a price on the freedom of owning your own business.


TLV: And for you, Paul?

Paul: Amen brother on what Matt just said. I couldn't think of anything else that would be more fun to do than what we're doing right now. Although we still disagree over some things now and then, I'm happy as can be working for my son. Matt was right about the business. He's doing a great job. I love coming to work every day.


See their cool stuff and unique finds for yourself:  

Reeves Antiques: 2415 Taft, 713-523-5577  

Cool Stuff: 1718 Westheimer, 713-523-5222   


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Fame Sleeps Here: Houston's Glenwood Cemetery 


Howard Hughes' Graveyard   

Howard Hughes' grave


It doesn't take a special event or a big donation to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers who make things happen. What it does take is a little imagination, and perhaps a willingness to get a little metaphysical...


Each year, about 1.5 million people pay homage to the Doors' Jim Morrison at his Paris grave. Houston, too, is home to a famed final resting place. Each year, people from all over the world pilgrimage to Glenwood Cemetery to pay respects to Howard Hughes, one of the world's first billionaires, himself an amazingly complex and unique icon. 


At Glenwood Cemetery, nestled off booming Washington Avenue, just east of Montrose, six generations of Houstonians rest in its grounds. The landscape of rolling hills, meandering roads, towering oaks and pines decorate the simple walkways to form a serene oasis in what was once rural Houston. The collection of monuments and statuaries punctuate the graves of many figures who impacted Houston, the state of Texas, and, in Howard Hughes' case, the world. 


Tombstones read like historical records of notables who helped shape the vibrant city that Houston is today. Walk its grounds and find the markers of the last President of the Republic of Texas, four Governors and more than 20 Houston mayors, as well as numerous economic, religious, professional and political leaders.


"It's not uncommon to have visitors from all over the world come to Glenwood," explained Executive Director Richard Ambrus. "The biggest draw is Howard Hughes, one of the first billionaires who made most of his money before the age of 40."


The public can share in this historical treasure through the 1.5-mile walking tours conducted four times a year by Preservation Houston. The next tour date is Saturday, May 24. These tours, which can be reserved online, are highly attended according to Ambrus. 


The general public is encouraged to explore Glenwood via bicycle, car or by simply strolling through the grounds. 


"People enjoy the property and monuments put up over the years. They come for the beauty, the history and because it's a quiet, nice place to visit. Our cemetery is about the living. People thank us all the time. They seem to feel a sense of comfort and relief here," Ambrus stated. 


Smack in the middle of a buzzing metropolis, a peaceful sanctuary and celebration of Houston's vitality, past and present.


Approximately 88 acres in size, Glenwood still has lots available. Plots, anyone?


Visit Glenwood Cemetery's website to learn more about visiting hours and activities.


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Local Gallerist Dan Mitchell Allison on Houston's Art Scene


Wanda Alexander walked into my gallery sometime in late September of 2012 and announced that she had found a paper bag full of paintings she had done in the late 1990s. At the time, she was letting her hands heal from what I have come to understand were the arduous, time-consuming rigors of creating her dense, large format works in Prismacolor (see below). She said she was "looking to sell or pawn" whatever she could, like a vacuum cleaner, or an Ed Ruscha (an American artist associated with the Pop art movement). Wanda had rent and bills to pay, and it didn't make much difference to her what was sold to do so. So, a Salvador Scarpitta went to Sotheby's, a drill and blender went to a garage sale, and a bag of her paintings came to me.


Wanda 1

The last hundred years in the art world have been fraught with movements and "isms," usually led by one or two notable artists. For every Kandinsky, Pollock, Warhol, or Manet, just to name a very few, there are always dozens of primary imitators, and even thousands of just plain hacks, borrowing part and parcel from the innovations of their peers. While these secondary artists seek validation of their work by following the trends established by others, there are always a few who, despite whatever current fashion appears on the horizon, are perfectly content to do their own thing. Usually these independent souls produce work that defies imitation and, in their own time, may not seem to fit into any particular category.


Jackson Pollock 

Think of Joseph Cornell, sitting at his mother's kitchen table decorating boxes, or Edward Hopper painstakingly painting every brick, while most of the art neighborhood is applauding the works of Franz Kline and getting all amped up to start slinging paint with Jackson Pollock. What about René Magritte? Magritte made "Magrittes" for his entire lifetime without pause to consider what everyone else was conjuring up to make the news.



Wanda Alexander is one of these independent souls. And she is Houston's very own.


I knew Wanda as a "character" around Houston's Montrose haunts and dives, but I didn't know that Wanda was an artist. Evidently Wanda didn't know either. She had been married to a famous artist in the 1970s, but was never included in the boys club. She was content to just do what she was doing in private. She has made hundreds of drawings and paintings on paper to satisfy her strong creative urge, even though the fruits of these efforts remained known only to her for some time. It has been my honor and pleasure to see some dozens of her works, as she pulls them out from beneath the bed, out of the closets, from under the furniture and brings them into my gallery.


Wanda 2

Artists are those individuals sitting on the moon, gazing at the stars, playing connect the dots in the heavens for our amusement, amazement, and sometimes enlightenment. Sometime in the 1980s, I believe someone in the world of business and finance coined the phrase "thinking outside the box." Well I'm going to go "sit on the moon" and plan my next PR campaign. I have big exhibition coming up and a lot of investment is riding on presenting objects for sale that are not necessities, but perhaps insightful realities.


Dan Mitchell Allison is owner of d. m. allison art on Colquitt in Houston. To find out more about his gallery, please visit www.dmallisonart.com or www.dmallisontoday.com.

Thanks for reading The Leyendecker View. We hope you find these perspectives unique, insightful and valuable.

We at Leyendecker & Associates are committed to the highest standards of value creation. 
Doug Leyendecker Jim Ford David Prodoehl Kelly Griego