Samuel “Sam” Ellis Dunnam, IV had a lifelong penchant for the finer things. As a young man growing up in Houston, Texas, he was affectionately nicknamed “Deluxe Dunham” by friends. Sam’s father was in the oil business in Houston, and the family’s finances were a direct reflection of the ups and downs of the oil industry over many decades. Hard times were lean, but good times meant bigger houses, finer cars and better art. This feast-or-famine mentality stayed with Sam into adulthood and, when times were good, Sam would start looking for the next fabulous painting or photograph to add to his collection.
While on their honeymoon in Mexico City, Valerie experienced Sam’s affinity for collecting firsthand as they wandered through the city’s galleries. She knew that as a young couple they couldn’t afford their first acquisition, “Peones” by Ricardo Martinez (Lot 67), but Sam had fallen in love with it. He negotiated with the gallery owner and bought the painting “over time” with a series of payments. It remained one of their favorite pieces throughout their lives.
Sam was a lifelong learner with a passion for philosophy. He earned a BA in philosophy in 1954 from Southern Methodist University and later earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at The University of Chicago. But, Sam was also a natural businessman, and pursued a career as a real estate developer in Austin, Texas. Later, seeking to diversify his investments, Sam founded Centex Communications, Inc., one of the earliest mobile communications companies in central Texas.
Val and Sam shared a passion for nature and enjoyed camping, hunting and hiking. From duck hunting at The Port Bay Club to dove hunting in South Texas, the couple was happiest when out in nature together. A serious amateur photographer himself, Sam traveled regularly to West Texas to capture the rugged beauty of Big Bend National Park. Sam and his beloved wife Valerie’s fine art and photography collection is a reflection of both Sam’s discerning eye and the couple’s shared love of art and nature. They traveled regularly to Santa Fe, where they enjoyed perusing the many galleries there. Sam was an early fan of Ansel Adam’s work and became a passionate collector of his photographs, some purchased “for a song”. He also discovered other, lesser known Santa Fe photographers and artists and was open to whatever spoke to him. Valerie was also a collector, but more focused on woodprints, folk art and pottery. Over the years, they acquired a diverse and eclectic collection of art and photography.
New Orleans Auction Galleries is honored to offer fine art from The Collection of Valerie Sellors and Samuel Ellis Dunnam, IV.