Richard Kessler is a man of many interests—and many outlets for those interests. The former chairman of the Days Inn hotel chain, the 65-year-old hospitality pioneer has spent the past 26 years as chairman and CEO of the Kessler Enterprise, his Orlando, Fla.–based hotel operations and development firm. Along the way, he has cultivated interests in everything from Chinese art to vintage firearms. His Kessler Collection—10 art-themed hotels that include the Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando and Kessler Canyon in Colorado—serves as a canvas for his connoisseurship. So, too, do Kessler’s philanthropic efforts, which range from the Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection at Atlanta’s Emory University to the Christian family retreat he built on the site of the original Salzburger settlement in Georgia. (Kessler traces his ancestry to this Lutheran group that immigrated to America from Bavaria in 1734.) Robb Report caught up with Kessler at his 23,000-acre resort in Colorado, where he was on a hunting trip with his son, Mark. —Bruce Wallin
How did Days Inn lead to the Kessler Collection?
After I sold Days Inn in 1984, I wanted to do other things. I always loved big-scale, complicated projects, and I was fascinated with great architecture and innovative ways to think about creating something different and worthwhile. So when I got back into hospitality, I really went to the next level with more sophisticated, complex, expensive properties. The hotels are an expression of who we are and give me a great place to have my collections where other people can enjoy them.
How do you select the art for each hotel?
Each hotel captures different aspects of my interests, but all of it is based in art and music. We have a warehouse filled with art and other items that I’ve bought, mainly in travels, so I can go in and say, “This, this, and this.” These are the key pieces that really set the tone for a new hotel. Then I’ve got two or three years before it opens to go find the rest of it.
What artist did you discover before anyone else?
I think Hong Min Zou. I discovered him in Atlanta by accident. Instead of having lunch, many times I would leave the office and go across the street to the art gallery. I walked in one day, and on the floor was this unframed Zou painting of Arthur Rubinstein. This was about 1987, before the whole Chinese-art thing took off. He ended up working for me for five years. I had him do a series of 21 paintings that describes the Salzburger immigration. It’s now at the Christian family retreat I built in Ebenezer—we rebuilt the town as it was, and have about 25,000 people a year go through it.
Tell us about the Reformation Collection.
We have the largest Martin Luther collection in the United States—more than the Folger [Shakespeare Library], Yale, anybody. A major part of the collection is one-of-a-kind pieces.
You also have several one-of-a-kind guns.
Here at the ranch we have two guns owned by Pat Garrett, possibly the gun that killed Billy the Kid. You’ll also see Scottish guns by David McKay Brown, German guns, Austrian guns, Purdeys, Fabbris, Winchester rifles from the 1800s, and about 350 heavily engraved first-generation Colts that go from the 1850s through the 1920s. I started collecting guns not for the gun particularly, but for the art and for the engravings.
What is your approach as a patron of the arts?
The more times you define what an artist should do, generally the less quality you get. What I try to find is the artist’s natural inclination. You have to give them space and just kind of laugh with them as it goes. And be patient. I find it fascinating how artists go about things—what you or I would call unorganized but somehow they get it done. One of the best evenings for me would be to have dinner with a dozen artists.