Building A Collection, Building A Scene

by | Oct 21, 2020 | ART

Shockoe Artspace founder Ryan Lauterio’s documentary, The Builder, spotlights Richmond art collector Don Childress in an effort to show how important collectors are to keeping the art world alive and thriving.

In 2017, VCU professor and founder of Shockoe Artspace Ryan Lauterio told his friend Don Childress that he knew he would one day tell his story. This year, on September 7, The Builder, directed and edited by Lauterio and Richmond filmmaker Nick Seitz, won top honors in the special interest film category at the Art Is Alive Film Festival in Milwaukee. The documentary, which was also nominated for best feature and best director, follows Childress, a contractor and Oregon Hill native who has an art collection that’s famous among the Richmond gallery scene.

The collection features prominent Richmond artists like Heide Trepanier and Ron Johnson, as well as world-renowned painters such as Francesco Clemente. Despite having works made by artists who are featured in museums, Don didn’t see himself as an art collector prior to the making of the film. According to Lauterio and Seitz, one of the messages they wanted to send with the film was that the world of art is not one of insiders and outsiders, that anyone who creates is an artist and anyone with a love for art can be an art collector.

Artist Curtis Newkirk Jr; Photo via The Builder

“The walls that my paintings hang on are the ones that [Childress] built; those walls are just as valuable as the work itself. In fact, they’re in a syncopated relationship that is mutually beneficial and mutually enhancing,” Lauterio said. “We are walking in a world of abundance and we miss it by narrowing down what we think an artist is, and so part of this film was to say Don’s as much an artist as the ones he’s collecting.”

The film features interviews from several Richmond artists, including Johnson, Trepanier, Curtis Newkirk, Jr., Sally Bowring, and Casey Criddle, as well as some curators from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Valerie Cassel Oliver and Dr. Michael Taylor. Also featured in the film are Pam Royall and the late Bill Royall, who passed away this summer from ALS at the age of 74. The couple have donated over 100 works to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and donated $5 million for the building of the Institute for Contemporary Art on Broad St. near VCU. They befriended painter and sculptor Kehinde Wiley, and Bill, who was a member of the VFMA’s board and was president from 2014 to 2016, persuaded the board to acquire Wiley’s sculpture Rumors of War in 2019. 

Including so many creators and collectors was important to Seitz and Lauterio. The art world is Richmond is made up of people who are interconnected in ways that, in some cases, they aren’t even aware of. The pair wanted to bring those connections to light with The Builder.

Pam and Bill Royall. Photo via The Builder

“Richmond has this rich history of people being unified while diverse,” said Lauterio. “And if you tell a story and neglect the context of people that have come before you to do the hard work, then we’re doing a disservice to them, to ourselves, and those who come after us.”

Because many people may see the world of art collecting as being inaccessible, Seitz and Lauterio wanted to use the film to show people that this isn’t the case, especially in a city like Richmond, where there are so many galleries spread out across its neighborhoods. Even though most people may not see it that way, according to Seitz, the first step to becoming an art collector is as easy as walking into a gallery or show.

“I don’t think anyone in Richmond would dispute the fact that this is an artsy city,” said Seitz. “So I think that this film was especially aimed at the people that already have some access or knowledge or proximity to art, but they have those mental barriers.”

Artist Ron Johnson. Photo via The Builder.

Childress’ enthusiasm for art is infectious, and he inspired his team of electricians to start collecting art. According to Lauterio, much of the art world can be elitist, but Childress represents what the art world could be if the community was more open to people who are typically viewed as outsiders.

“The builder is Don Childress primarily, but it’s also a proxy for culture builders that may or may not realize that they are,” said Lauterio. “He’s actually a real person, this is all a true story, but he also metaphorically gives license to other people to realize how much they matter, even when they don’t see themselves as mattering in that way.”

The Builder will be showing in more film festivals and in museums in the future, and is also available to rent online on and

Top Photo: Don Childress, via The Builder

Will Gonzalez

Will Gonzalez

Will Gonzalez is a writer from Washington, D.C. living in Richmond. He is a contributor for the Henrico Citizen and VCU's Capital News Service.

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