Passion for posters drives Edwards gallery
EDWARDS – In his former life, local resident Steve Woodruff used to trade commodities on busy trading floors in Chicago and London. He may still be viewed as a trader of sorts, but the product he buys and sells now is anything but a commodity. Woodruff is the owner of Christopher & Co., an Edwards gallery featuring rare, antique poster art.The gallery displays approximately 3,000 posters, most of which highlight ski, sports, and travel themes primarily from the United States and Europe. The collection dates as far back as the Belle Epoch era of the 1880s and spans through the present day. “Posters are fascinating because they catalogue history – the products, the clothing, the attitudes of the time,” Woodruff says.Originally from a small farm town in northern Illinois, Woodruff moved to Chicago after graduate school to trade financial derivatives on the Chicago Board Options Exchange.This high-powered and stressful career led him to various stints in Europe, including two years in Amsterdam and over a decade in London, he says. Woodruff got serious about collecting art after marrying his wife, Kris, and their subsequent move to London. Over the years, collecting art became a soothing escape from the anxiety and constant mental intrusions of Woodruff’s long hours on the trading floor, he says. It was on a trip to Paris that the couple became enamored with poster art, and they began purchasing it to display in their home. One poster quickly became six, and they soon began frequenting auctions. Now the Woodruffs lay claim to having amassed the single largest collection of antique ski poster art in the world, Woodruff says.
Rising valueIn 1995, Woodruff finally decided to “retire.” He, Kris, and their three children relocated to the Vail Valley, where they had already spent many family vacations. A trader at heart, Woodruff didn’t stay retired for long, as he began placing ads in the paper to gauge interest in his extensive poster collection. The response was so positive that he opened up his first gallery shortly thereafter. From 1996 to 1998, Christopher & Co. operated out of a small space in Beaver Creek. In 1998, Woodruff purchased his current space in Edwards Village Center.Woodruff has so much conviction about the quality of his art that he guarantees he will buy back any poster in the future for at least what a customer paid him for it originally, he says. “I only sell posters I’d be happy to hang in my own home,” he says.Woodruff has developed quite a following in the antique poster niche where there are no more than 50 major players worldwide. He maintains relationships with a network of contacts who scour the globe for the types of posters he is known to accumulate, he says. “Posters in general, and ski posters in particular, have risen strongly in value over the last few years,” says Anthony Nightingale, a long-standing client and Hong Kong businessman who has owned a home in Beaver Creek for 15 years. “The great images are becoming rarer and rarer but whenever I enter Christopher’s, I still find some very attractive posters which would look stunning on any wall,” he says.
“When you buy a work of art which costs several thousands of dollars you want to feel that the dealer is treating you fairly and sharing his knowledge and passion,” adds Nightingale. “With Steve I feel completely confident and also have spent many enjoyable hours talking about posters with him.” Woodruff has amassed many other loyal customers, locals as well as vacationers, who return to the store year after year. Mike Biondi of Greenwich, Conn., has purchased at least 12 pieces from Woodruff for his residence, office, and vacation home in Mountain Star. “Steve really is an old-fashioned retailer in the best sense,” Biondi says. “He gets to know his clients’ interests and tastes and then does a great job of finding pieces they will like.””I love the business and enjoy my clientele immensely,” Woodruff adds. “It has been rewarding to see some of my customers’ collections grow from one to a dozen or more.”Resort reproductionsChristopher & Co. also sells some collectibles bearing not only the Vail and Beaver Creek monikers but also Bachelor Gulch, a first for the newer ski area. These are part of a series of giclee reproductions that Woodruff made utilizing 14 of his most irreplaceable and classic posters, the images of which are now in the public domain. Giclee is a relatively new print technology utilizing high resolution digital scans that are printed as images using archival quality inks. The process, conducted locally by Photo Effects in Edwards, is widely known to accomplish exceptional color accuracy and quality. These reproductions were done in an effort to preserve the originals while making some popular images affordable to more people. The giclee posters retail for $295.
The Bachelor Gulch poster, by way of comparison, is a reproduction of a work known as “Winter in Zwitserland” done by an artist named Hermes in 1938. This original sells for $6,200. Woodruff is careful to make the reproductions in different sizes than the originals to prevent any confusion in the future.Vail, Colorado