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“I tramped through the museums from one end to the other,” Mica said of the trip he took when he was 21. “I actually ran out of money in Europe and worked in a Volkswagen factory. I was there for about a year, so I had a lot of time to look at the European art.”
Since then, Mica has built a collection that may not rival the Rockefellers — “they have an art collection that just blows your socks off,” he said — but it’s one he treasures.
“My collection is just a little piker’s compared to theirs,” he said. “But I enjoy it.”
Life in the House can sometimes get in the way of his hobby. The week before the recent recess, Mica said he’d had his eye on a piece at a London auction. But with votes, meetings and hearings, art had to come second.
“I just got so damn busy that I missed it,” he said. “But they’ll be more opportunities. Some of this stuff is a little bit pricey, so you can only do so much.”
Part of what he aims to do, though, goes beyond building his own personal collection. As House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman, Mica has one epic goal — he wants to convert the Federal Trade Commission’s headquarters into a space for the National Gallery of Art.
“You know, legislation comes and goes, but the Congress is the custodian of great treasures of the people and we should make these treasures available for the public,” Mica said.
And Mica’s pledged to stay in Congress until the building transfer happens.
“A few weeks back, I was in the National Gallery on a Sunday and it was jam-packed,” Mica said. “The neat thing is, I saw people from all walks of life and they were just enjoying looking at the art. It’s their art collection, and I think it’s good to make sure the owners are treated properly and have access to it.”
As for his own art collection, Mica’s a bit more modest about its future.
“Probably what will happen, when I die, all this crap will get submitted to an auction,” Mica said, laughing. “This isn’t really museum quality, but it’s nice. I enjoy it. I collect some books, too — it’s the junky potpourri. I keep the good stuff at home.”
Some of the good stuff, however — such as the prints, the china and some of the Italian old masters’ drawings — made it to his D.C. office.
“I guess everybody has their hobbies, and I’ve got mine,” Mica said. “And since you spend two-thirds of your time up here, it’s nice to bring a little bit of the art from home.”
One piece that won’t make it from his home to the Capitol, however, is what Mica calls his most controversial work — a nude painting of his aunt made by his artist uncle.