By Lenore Macdonald
One of the most creative, entrepreneurial, and successful Chicago women is also one of the most interesting, well-traveled, and engaging. Yes, today we are talking to Leslie Hindman, who, four decades ago, realized that there was a gaping void in our stimulating, sophisticated, and art-laden metropolis. She founded brilliantly Leslie Hindman Auctioneers to fill that void.
Auctioneer Leslie Hindman in Action.
In addition to running the auction house, for eight years she hosted two television shows on the Home & Garden Television Network (HGTV), At the Auction with Leslie Hindman and The Appraisal Fair, which were viewed in more than 80 million homes across the United States. She also wrote a weekly syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune called What’s It Worth? Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, published her critically acclaimed book, Adventures at the Auction, in 2001. She is the recipient of many awards, including the YWCA Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the National Association of Women Business Owners Woman of Achievement Award.
Proud parents Don and Pat Hindman with Leslie.
Raised in Hinsdale, Leslie attended Pine Manor College, the Sorbonne, and Indiana University. She received an honorary Doctorate in Business Administration from Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois.
Being struck by wanderlust at a very early age informed her life’s choices.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
“I went to the Avery Coonley School. My French teacher, Yvette Storm, took twelve kids to France for a month. When I returned home, I told my parents, “I want to go back to France for the summer.” They said, “you can’t, you are 14 years old.” I pressed so Dad wrote to his YPO friends and found families for me to live with that summer–one was the Wolfers family from Brussels. It was a big part of my education. I went to France or Belgium most summers of my life. I lived with the Wolfers most summers until I was twenty.
The happy retiree soaking up the charms of Venice, pre-Covid.
“Superficially, I was an au pair, but the families didn’t really need an au pair—the kids were almost my age. They lived near Saint Tropez and Le Zoute, Belgium, which is near Holland. When I was a little older, I got a job in Switzerland as a waitress in a fondue restaurant.
“I have spent my whole life figuring out how to get to France as often as I can. I remember being 16 or 17 and figuring out how to get a cheap ticket on Icelandic Air, going by myself–figuring out how to get there and stay there.
“I love to travel as often as possible because of these early experiences.”
What inspired you to found Leslie Hindman Auctioneers?
“I was fortunate enough to be hired by Catharine Hamilton in 1978 when she opened Sotheby’s first branch office in Chicago. I was lucky to be hired as her Assistant, then became Manager until 1982. I loved the auction business. We had two auctions in Chicago, one in 1980 at the Drake Hotel and one in 1981 at the Ambassador West. They were very successful.
Lights, camera, action on the set of Art at the Auction, circa 1996.
“I was learning a lot and realized that there was no major auction house in the Midwest. I was 26 years old, loved the industry, and by the time I was 27, I thought I should open an auction house’.”
And she did.
“I kept telling myself I have nothing to lose. I had no money but was very lucky to have found a group of investors including Buzz Norton, Barry Maclean, John Bryan, Fred Krehbiel, and Tom Lee who backed me financially and were very generous with business advice. I never would have made it without their advice. There were not many women in business back then. I started the auction house when I was 27 years old, worked very hard, and fortunately did really well.
Leslie with her brother, Donald.
“It was really important to me that Chicago have its own auction house. It amazed me that there were auction houses in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York—but not in Chicago. We were also the first auction house to open full-service branches. Now we have ten, including Palm Beach, Naples, Denver, Atlanta, and Scottsdale.”
What were some of the most interesting items that you auctioned?
“The big, single owner auctions were really interesting and fun. We auctioned the contents of Comiskey Park as well as the contents of the Chicago Stadium. That auction was the last event held in the historic Chicago Stadium. Lilly Pulitzer’s was really fun—we sold the contents of Lilly’s whimsical Palm Beach home. Over 500 people attended that auction—all dressed in Lilly clothes!”
Leslie emphasized that her “favorite thing was working with groups of young people at the auction house. There were so many over the years, and I am still friends with most of them, and they remain friends with each other.”
Leslie stoking a bidding war at a charity auction.
Her colleagues often “laugh with her about how hard they worked. I still spend time with them. I’ve met so many great people in my life, especially from the auction house. There is still an incredible sense of camaraderie. It is such a great thing to look back at these relationships and they are still going strong after so many years.
Brother Donald with Leslie after a toast to her at her 65th birthday party.
“People have said that working at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers was and is considered a plum job, but I know that it was one of the hardest jobs around. It was great because you met collectors, dealers and were constantly learning. People in the business are interesting and fun to work with. That was the best part of it—the people.”
What did you do during the COVID lock-down?
“I was always doing something every day. I sheltered in place in Palm Beach, where it is warm and I was able to get together with small groups of friends. It’s a wonderful place with a vibrant cultural scene and nice people. It is its own little island.”
“Travel! I am waiting for COVID to be over and for everything to open up again. I already have many great trips planned!”
Back to Europe! This time to Italy with Bill Zwecker and, snapping this fun shot, Tom Gorman.”
Leslie was extremely gracious and did not mention that her firm also auctioned the Schwinn Family Bicycle Collection, as well as the personal property from such renowned estates as Arthur Rubloff, Mrs. Robert R. McCormick, the Potter Palmer families, and Dole heiress Elizabeth F. Cheney. In 1991, her firm gained international renown with the discovery and authentication of a previously unknown still life by Vincent van Gogh. The painting sold for $1.43 million.
Leslie sold a majority interest in Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in 2017 to Jay Krehbiel. The firm continues to grow and thrive under his leadership. She still advises and consults. Even in semi-retirement, Leslie remains one of the country’s foremost authorities on the buying and selling of fine art, antiques, and collectibles.
Photo credits: Leslie Hindman, the Hindman family, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, and Tom Gorman.
©2021 Lenore Macdonald