On the Road

John Hays '82 finds the national spotlight in the world of antiques

Selling a $2-million pair of guns formerly owned by George Washington isn't part of an average day at the office for most people. But for John Hays '82, the record-setting sale for a piece of Washington memorabilia is part of his normal routine.

Hays is senior vice president and international director of American art for Christie's International. He began his career twenty years ago when he decided to enroll in the Christie's Education Program fresh out of Kenyon. For Hays, who as an undergraduate interned with the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, getting into Christie's was a combination of ambition and serendipity.

"I knew that I wanted to be in the art world, and I was hoping to be in the business end of the art world, if possible," says Hays. "I had interned at museums, and I was pretty sure that was not what I wanted to do, so I applied to the Christie's program in London without knowing much about it at the time, and I got in."

Hays says it's been a good ride thus far at Christie's. Looking back, he admits that he entered the art world at just the right time. "The business has always been good, but it was in the late '80s that the money just exploded. The value of the great masterpieces went sky high. Today, it's hard for the average collector to just jump in the market."

Hays holds an enviable position in the $2-billion Christie's empire. His office, located in Rockefeller Center, is connected to the NBC studios and overlooks the Avenue of the Americas. For those who are lucky enough to get an appointment, getting to his professional quarters requires climbing endless flights of stairs and flashing official identification. He can be found somewhere between the priceless antiques and mountains of Christie's publications that fill the office.

Hays is quoted in countless antiques- and art-related publications; he has been a regular appraiser for PBS television series Antiques Roadshow; and this past summer he starred in a television advertising campaign for Sprint. The advertisement, which spoofed his work on the Roadshow, aired to a national audience.

As to how his fame blossomed so quickly, Hays admits he was in the right place at the right time. "The Roadshow came about when a friend of mine bought the rights to the British show and asked me if I would do it, so I did," said Hays. "The opportunities in life are often where you least expect them. It's really just about trying what is new and different."

The Roadshow is encouraging people to raid their attics, causing some to wonder if it's possible to run out of antiques. Hays has no worries, at least not while he's around. "In my generation, we'll still have plenty. For instance, just last year Christie's sold the seventeenth-century valuables cabinet of Joseph and Bathsheba Pope of Salem. It belonged to Benjamin Franklin's niece; her name was on the back of it in chalk."

Although he is a collector of Nantucket paraphernalia and duck decoys, Hays says that in recent years both his personal and professional antiques dealings have become less of a priority. He and his wife, Constance, a business reporter for the New York Times, are happily entrenched in the responsibilities of raising three children in Manhattan. Despite a demanding career, he often trades his suit and bow tie for a less formal outfit: running pants, tennis shoes, and a whistle. Hays has officially become a soccer dad.

"Raising a family here is a balancing act with my wife, and I couldn't do it without her," concedes Hays. "But if you want to be in the art world, you have to live in New York."

Hays reports that the family has spent many weekends museum-hopping in the city. And although that may seem like something of a shameless plug to jumpstart them in the art world, Hays is confident that his children will follow their own paths. And, when it comes to tracking down good pieces of art, Hays says, "I think they'll each develop their own eye."

-Adam Sapp '02

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