Anne Kern: Downsizing while Making a Difference






Anne Kern’s sharing spirit shines in every aspect of her life, including the downsizing of her splendid East Lake Shore Drive apartment when she and husband John, to whom she has been married for almost 59 years, moved recently to smaller quarters.

A life trustee of the Chicago Symphony, former Art Institute Sustaining Fellows program chair, and member of the women’s boards of the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, to name just a few, Anne has used her leadership abilities to help determine the fate of favorite things.


Anne Kern with daughter Liz Chalmers (left) and granddaughter Elinor Chalmers (right).

Her story of passing along paintings, ceramics, furniture, and other treasures, not only to their three children and friends but also to public schools and universities, regional museums, and other institutions, defines paying it forward.

“It’s all about giving of oneself, one’s treasures away to people, who might want them or need them. Make someone happy! Each person has to decide which of their possessions they might want to sell or put up for auction, but we are delighted that we found happy homes for some of our favorites.

“John and I have loved to travel and spent 22 years vacationing at Palmas del Mar in Puerto Rico, where we had a house on the ocean. We collected quite a few small pieces of mid-century ceramics from the art gallery and studio Casa Candina, including bowls and containers. We are delighted that the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture on Division has accepted them for their collection.

“We took time to do research, and one of my greatest delights was to discover that the Nathan Hale School on the southwest side needed a piano—a great joy to pass ours along to them. I have heard it is already on the stage there, and I can’t wait to visit the school.”


Their light-filled East Lake Shore Drive living room (and its beautiful piano).

“We are life members of the Visiting Committee of the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, and I loved giving then our dining room set. I always thought the table would look better in a conference room, so it seemed a perfect destination. The dining room chairs accompanying the table are by Gay Aulenti, the Italian architect and furniture designer, and they went along, too. 

“We have given a wonderful sculpture by the Chicago artist Jerry Peart to Oakton Community College.”


Anne with Gary Metzner.

If you are considering downsizing, Anne offers this advice:

“John and I had been living on the eighth floor of our dream apartment, just over the treetops, with an unobstructed East Lake Shore Drive view of Oak Street Beach and convenient to all we enjoy. Putting it on the market recently was a big decision, but we wanted to move to a smaller apartment.

 “I went first to our three children, Liz, Louise, and Jay, to talk about downsizing. Liz lives close by, but Louise lives in Vienna, and Jay in Marin County. I asked that they make lists of the things they each wanted and said that if there were any conflicts, they would have to resolve them themselves.

“There was just one piece, a small woodcarving of a saint from a retablo in Palencia, Spain, that John and I bought in El Rastro, Madrid’s favorite flea market, on our honeymoon. Each wanted it but they worked it out.

“I definitely didn’t want to take the silver with me, so the girls and I divided it up for members of the family and some friends. That made me quite happy. I just took one tray with a silver border.

“I did stress to the children that it was important to keep old family pieces. My daughter Liz has remarked that her house now looks more like a gift shop!

“As you are going about the process of downsizing, it is very important to get appraisals, and I worked with several auction houses in the process.”

Although Anne and John have loved the idea of traveling light, they have outfitted their new apartment with added storage and more closets for pieces they chose to bring along.


Beatrice Wood, 1908.

“We have loved the work of Dada sculptress Beatrice Wood, who died at 105 almost 20 years ago. A girlfriend of Marcel Duchamp at one point, she was the model for his Nude Descending the Staircase that caused such a stir at the 1913 Armory Show.”


Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne and John met by chance. Anne had been working at the Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis when her parents advised her that Hartford might be a good place to work.

“I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce about good places to apply and heard that not only insurance but also typewriter company headquarters, including Royal and Underwood, were located there. Since I was typing on a Royal, I thought the other could tell that I was using a rival product, so I applied to Royal, located in West Hartford. John was working there, and the rest is history.”

Traveling has been significant in the lives of a couple, both committed volunteers. In addition to worldwide explorations, the Kerns have owned homes in both Puerto Rico and Colorado, and made it a habit to get involved in each community. Anne and John are sustainers of the National Repertory Orchestra in Keystone, Colorado. In each spot they collected regional works.

We got very involved in the art scene in Puerto Rico and worked with sculptor Jaime Suarez, whom we met through Casa Candina. He designed the fountain for the World’s Fair in Seville for the Puerto Rico Pavilion after first making our fountain for our sculpture garden in Palmas del Mar. It had to remain in Puerto Rico due to its size.

“When we travel, we love staying in small hotels, not the big commercial ones. The concierges usually know good places to look for art. Wherever we traveled—Morocco, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Turkey, or other wonderful spots—we bought something to remember that happy trip. I also like to collect books from a place we visit and read them at home when we return.”


Anne with dear friend Viriginia Wolff.


With her realtor, Julie Harron; Michelle Bibergall-Snow; and Gary Metzner.

Anne continues to stay involved in many Chicago non-profits, which count on her calm, compassionate, and intelligent way of looking at issues, and her willingness to jump right in to be helpful.

 “I have been a volunteer all my life since my Sunday School and Brownie Scout days. During World War II, there was a drive to collect baking grease to be used for the war effort. I remember going door to door at our neighbors to collect it.

“In high school, I worked on the newspaper and yearbook, and with the YWCA in college. I was a member of the Village Association of the Art Institute when we lived in Hinsdale and joined the CSO Women’s Association in 1965. John and I became involved with the Puerto Rican Symphony and were advisors to Casa Candina.”

Anne relates that the last project in her mission to downsize is tackling is her extensive book collection, always one of the toughest challenges.

“I speak Spanish and enjoy collecting books from south of the border. I love giving to the Newberry, so I imagine that several of the books will go there. I think life is all about sharing.”