Ed Jaffe | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ed Jaffe

Background:  

Ed Jaffe is a community activist as well as an accomplished artist. He started his Torrington studio, formerly a farm, in 2014 and teamed up with city planner Martin Connor to create the Art Blanket, which involved a major change to the city’s zoning laws and created conditions for more artists to move to Torrington.

Born in New Haven and raised in Maine, the 87-year-old dates his art life’s beginning to age 13 when he learned to use a camera. He worked as an advertising agency photographer in New York for 22 years. Jaffe moved to Vermont in 1972 to learn to sculpt. He is also a painter, having been inspired by his travels in South America, Spain and Portugal. Among the Connecticut venues that displayed Jaffe’s work prior to opening his own gallery in Virginia in 1994 were the Arlene McDaniel Gallery in Simsbury, Five Points Gallery in Torrington and the New England Fine Art Institute in Wilton.

The Mistake:

Never chase after money. It’s been a constant temptation but something I’ve never succumbed to.

A close friend tried to get me to move to the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island, telling me I could make a lot more money and gain an international reputation. He was probably right about the money but I couldn’t live that lifestyle.

Many galleries want you to keep producing the same kind of stuff so the both of you can keep making money. A lot of artists fall for this. If you chase money you lose your independence. That’s not wisdom, really. It’s that I don’t want to be told what to do.

If you chase money you lose your independence.

The Lesson:

You should be smart about money. Many artists aren’t. The art schools don’t train them in these things. If I was starting an art school, the first-year courses would be accounting, marketing and law. Artists need to be able to speak the language of business.

You’ll have down times as an artist but as long as you’re moving forward you can change things.

I’ve had a lot of fun and some frustrations, but I’ve always been willing to take the next step. Some artists are not capable of doing this because they’re tied to the buck.

I’m in my fifth 20-year cycle. Things take time to develop. After I decided to head back north – 20 years in Virginia is a long time for a Yankee – I spent some time with my brother in Massachusetts. I looked at Connecticut but I wasn’t sure I’d settle here. I got outbid three times on places. Then I found Torrington. It didn’t appeal right away but then I looked at the Warner Theatre, the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory and some other things and thought this is a place where I could fit.

The zoning laws said I couldn’t use my barn for artwork, which is nuts, so I worked to change the law and now it’s the best zoning law in the country. The future of Torrington depends on it. Torrington is not going to be a factory town ever again. I told people, “If you don’t like my idea then what’s yours?” I think I won a lot of people over but it wasn’t easy.

I had to zig-zag a lot but if you’re always moving forward then you can make corrections in course. My work has not been revolutionary; it’s been evolutionary. I’m increasingly aware of how much my life mirrors my art. I create a problem on the canvas then work to resolve the problem until I reach the sweet point where I can’t mess it up any more.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Connecticut.