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The Thrill of the Hunt: Shea Soucie’s Meaningful Collections

In his book The Joys of Collecting, world-renowned collector J.Paul Getty writes that a collector “frequently experiences thrills and sometimes savors triumphs.” These moments—from the thrill of finding an object worth collecting to the triumph of acquiring the piece you’ve been searching for — inspire designer Shea Soucie both in her own collecting and in working with the collections of her stylish clients.

Soucie, one-half of lauded Chicago design firm Soucie Horner, recently chatted with PAGODA RED about the enduring appeal of building a collection and her own collection of pieces by Hawaiian sculptor Esther Shimazu. For Soucie, “almost any collection is interesting – there’s so much to learn about how and why things were created. Collections are one of the easiest, and most important, ways of personalizing space, whether a home or even an office.”

A piece by Esther Shimazu sits cheerfully among clean-lined furniture and a floral rug.

In Soucie’s home, Esther Shimazu’s exuberant pieces lounge on glass tables and peer out from floating shelves. Shimazu is one of Hawaii’s best-known artists, known in particular for her lighthearted sculptures of chunky, nude Asian women. She shapes each piece by hand before coloring it with slips and oxides, bisque-firing and hand-sanding it, coloring further, and firing and sanding the piece one last time. Each sculpture is completely unique, capturing a woman caught in a moment of time. Their dynamic poses reflect Shimazu’s desire “to jam in as much individual personality as possible.” Soucie says she was drawn to collect them because “all of Esther Shimazu’s pieces have a joyful, uninhibited quality about them. ‘Little Nippy’ and ‘Lotus’… in particular radiate a sort of zest for life that really appeals to me.”

“Lotus” by Esther Shimazu

Soucie’s beloved collection is also a timeline of memorable life events for her and her family. She told PAGODA RED that her “husband Chris gifted me with ‘Little Nippy’ after our first child was born. I received one for each of our children who were born after. We also bought one in honor of our housewarming once our renovation was complete. All were big events in the life we’ve built, and I love them all.”

Glass insulators and sculptures by Esther Shimazu in Shea Soucie’s home.

The walnut shelves allow each sculpture to shine, while also highlighting Shimazu’s signature details, including carefully lacquered fingernails and tiny teeth. While the collection is central to the room, it’s not Soucie’s only one — she also collects glass insulators, grouped artfully on the fireplace mantle.

The insulators are functional objects that double as art pieces, much like Japanese Tabak-bon and Chinese carpenter lines. Soucie says that the insulators aren’t “worth much… but I love their shapes.  Plus, they’re good conversation pieces. Most people don’t know what they are and will ask about them.” Similarly, she noted that the Shimazu pieces can spark conversations as “they make some people shy away when they first see them.”

The Chinese unglazed vessels flanking the fireplace add texture and depth to the room.

When working with Soucie Horner’s chic clientele, Soucie keeps the possibilities of collecting in mind, and uses collections to create spaces centered on each client’s tastes. She says, “We have many clients who collect special things when they travel, or to commemorate important life events. Their collections are unique and meaningful to them, which is what makes them so additive to our design schemes. Of course, we love the thrill of the hunt ourselves, and often curate collections for clients who may not already have them. Those add personality, too.”

Indeed, as Soucie’s collections illustrate and Shimazu herself might appreciate, a meaningful collection can be a great way to bring out as much personality as possible.

Please click here to read more about Esther Shimazu’s work.

Available pieces by Esther Shimazu can be found online or in person at PAGODA RED.


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