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    Sunday, March 26, 2023

    Lifestyle expert Alexandra Stoddard on giving away art, not publishing books, and having the time of her life

    Alexandra Stoddard (Submitted)
    “Arbres et Maisons en Ete” by Roger Muhl, which will remain part of Alexandra Stoddard’s collection (Submitted)
    This watercolor by Lord Alastair Gordon and porcelain vegetables by Lady Anne Gordon are among the works Alexandra Stoddard is keeping. (Submitted)

    Lifestyle guru Alexandra Stoddard’s perspective changed after undergoing an operation for a blocked major vein.

    It was the same type of surgery that her brother went through when he was 57 and was told there was a 95% chance he’d live a normal life afterward. But he didn’t survive the procedure.

    When her operation in late 2021 proved successful, Stoddard recalls, “I said, ‘This is it. I’m going to have the best time of my life.’”

    She thinks of herself as being on borrowed time, since her mother died at 68, her father at 73, her brother at 57, and her sister at 80.

    “I’m 81-and-a-half, and boy, am I having fun,” says Stoddard, who lives in Stonington Borough.

    She says she woke up from the operation and realized how much she wanted to live in the moment. That meant not holding on to all the things she had accumulated over the course of her life.

    Stoddard has been a huge art collector, and she has also saved things like all of her archives, drafts of manuscripts and handwritten letters.

    “I mean — I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how many things I had. I didn’t count my possessions, but I had 80 paintings by my favorite artist (Roger Mühl, the French painter with whom she became friends). I was compulsive. I would fly to Paris and buy art, bring my children and say, ‘Whatever you want in the gallery,’” she says.

    Now she is going through a process that museums call deaccessioning. She is looking at every possession she has and deciding whether or not to keep it.

    “For me, for a private collector, it’s just evaluating what you’re really, really enjoying on a daily basis. And then putting it out in the universe, selling some, giving some to thrift shops — my possessions (have gone to the thrift shops), not my art,” she says.

    She gave a watercolor of New York City by Mühl to a child who loves the city.

    Numerous artworks are going up for auction in New York, and she gave 18 paintings back to the gallery where she had bought them.

    Her two daughters supported Stoddard’s decision to clear out a lot of her possessions. After the operation, Stoddard recalls, “We had serious talks. My children and my grandchildren said, ‘We don’t want anything. We just want to have good times and we want you to have good times. And you don’t have to be saddled with all these things. We don’t want them.’”

    While this effort might resonate with people familiar with the Marie Kondo’s advice on keeping possessions that “spark joy,” Stoddard references “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter” by Margareta Magnusson. That method involves clearing out unnecessary belongings before others have to do it for you.

    In her house, Stoddard points to places were paintings used to be on the wall; where one work now hangs, another used to be placed above it.

    Stoddard is quick to note that it’s not that she doesn’t love the artworks she is letting go of.

    “I’m not talking about if you don’t love it, give it away. That’s not what I’m doing. I’m talking about outrageous excess — outrageous excess,” she says. “You put it out there in the universe, and you know how wise you are to do it.”

    And it’s not just paintings that she has amassed. She notes that she had 60 quilts in her unfinished third-floor attic. (She and her husband, Peter Megargee Brown, bought their Stonington Borough home in 1988. He died in 2014 at age 92. The couple had been married for 40 years.)

    “My grandfather was a ship builder, and I can put a million things in a small space. I had so many plates, so many dishes, so much porcelain,” she says.

    The artists whose work she loves include Lord Alastair and Lady Anne Gordon, who lived in England; he focused on watercolor botanical paintings, and she, porcelain fruits and vegetables. Stoddard said she’d buy everything they’d make and have the pieces shipped to her.

    As for what appealed to her about collecting art, Stoddard notes that her mother was a frustrated artist who ended up painting and doing sculpture for pleasure, and her godmother, whom she idolized, was an artist. Alexandra was 5 when she saw her first Monet.

    “I just was a visual person. I woke up to beauty,” she says.

    She thought that the first painting she bought, at age 19, was a Monet, one of her favorite artists; turned out, it was a Tom Robertson, and she currently still has it.

    Living a beautiful life

    Stoddard went on to have a career as “a philosopher of contemporary living.” After being an interior designer, she became a best-selling author — her books on living well included “Living a Beautiful Life” and “Choosing Happiness.”

    A pioneer in the “Happiness Movement,” she has lectured on personal happiness and encouraged people to live more personally fulfilling, beautiful lives.

    She hosted the HGTV program “Homes Across America” and wrote a monthly column, “Living Beautifully,” for McCall’s Magazine.

    She was recently the focus of a pop-up exhibition at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London.

    Writing because she loves to write

    Stoddard published her last book in 2013. That was the year her long-time literary agent, Carl Brandt, died from bone marrow cancer.

    And while Stoddard says that book, titled “The Shared Wisdom of Mothers and Daughters,” was a big success, Brandt’s agency “couldn’t figure out what it was like to be my age — my husband died a year later, in 2014 — to be a single woman living alone, a writer … I was told that I wasn’t relevant.”

    The agency had published 28 of her books. Before his death, Brandt told Stoddard that she had five more books in her, and he told his agency to keep after her. But it was not to be.

    Stoddard says she finally left that agency; “I felt if they don’t think I’m good enough for them and I’m not relevant …”

    Stoddard talks about “this new chapter” in her life, but she still writes.

    “I write every day because writers write,” she says.

    She says she writes “just to think through my life and my concept of what is beautiful and what is meaningful.”

    A friend of hers who is a literary agent approached a major publisher not long ago about a new Stoddard book. But they were turned down.

    That was a turning point for Stoddard.

    “Instead of trying to get published, I made an announcement to my readers that I’m not ever going to be published again. I’m not writing books for publication. I’m just writing because I love to write. I have a website and a newsletter and that’s it,” she says.

    She realized the publishing world had changed radically. She thinks that part of the reason she was rebuffed was that she has “zero social media — on purpose. Of course, young writers … are doing their blogs every day and photographing every single meal they have. It’s so tiresome to be around people who are searching after something. They want something, I understand, but I prefer not to be with people who can’t be in the moment.”

    She has gotten letters from her fans, saying they are now rereading all of Stoddard’s books.

    “I was writing all of these wonderful books, there were eight or ten of them I was working on over all these years. I just threw them all away, every copy, everything,” she says.

    Stoddard wrote about death after the passing of her husband and her literary agent.

    “I had to go through the process of writing through the deaths of the two most important people in my growth … ,” she says. “People thought I was depressed or gloomy — ‘Why are you writing about death?’ Well, it was what I wanted to process and that’s what you do as a writer.”

    She never showed that writing to anyone; she was just working on her own understanding.

    Thinking the best

    Stoddard is continuing to enjoy her life.

    “I’m an optimistic person. I think the best of everything …,” she says. “I’m not taking any moment of my life for granted.”

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