Last week, Fine Estate Art & Rugs celebrated the grand opening of a new space, Gallery Two, that will be home to living Indiana artists in the plein air tradition. Owner Curt Churchman believes his outfit became the largest retail art gallery in the state, at over 500 displayed pieces of art, with the opening of the new space, adjacent to Fine Estate's current location. As Churchman notes in the following email interview, Gallery Two's offerings are aligned stylistically with Fine Estate's core collection of historic Indiana artworks dating to the late 19th century.
NUVO: How will Gallery Two differ from the original gallery space? Will you be able to bring in different types of artists, more work by a given artist?
Curt Churchman: Fine Estate Art represents historic Indiana artwork. Think T.C. Steele, etc. We have an unusual amount of this in Indiana. It's because Steele, Forsyth, Stark, etc. all studied abroad and when they returned to the States, they elected to come back to Indiana rather than try to set up their respective careers in NYC. That was around 1890. So they stayed, they painted and they taught. And as a result they fostered both a market for local art with local patrons and brought along the next generation of artists. And that started a tradition or trend, if you will.
The next generation took their training and then were able to stay in Indiana, paint and teach, and they in turn fostered younger artists, etc. So we had all these artists working in the plein air/impressionist tradition painting native scenes. Lots of them. And as a result, lots of historic paintings. And that's Fine Estate - dealing with this "aftermarket," historic art. Fine Estate owns the vast majority of the paintings that are on offer.
Gallery Two is handling living artists from Indiana and the greater Midwest who are working in that same tradition - plein air, impressionist landscapes typically featuring local (or Indiana-related) subject matter. So G2 is a natural extension of what Fine Estate has been doing for the last decade. The two offerings are very compatible and, really, part of a continuum, though the business models are completely different. Whereas FE owns most of what's on offer, the pieces represented at G2 are on consignment from the artists. G2 is their local (e.g. central Indiana) exclusive representation, and they consign their paintings to the gallery.
NUVO: Why was this a good time to expand?
Churchman: I'd been considering this expansion for about a year. There had been a gallery in Zionsville owned by Sue Wickliff. Sue represented several of the artists who I now have. She closed around 2008. And since her closing, there has really been a paucity of opportunities here in the Indianapolis area for this type of established artist to have representation.
We all know why galleries were closing (and not opening) in 2008. The financial mess was really hard on things like galleries. But that being a few years behind us and the economy finally stabilizing made me think this was do-able. But further, the store next to me (Uber) was moving, and when I learned this, the wheels started turning. It's very helpful to have both galleries next to each other. It would not work to have them as discrete storefronts.
I want to be a single destination and I don't want to have to staff two different business locations. There are lots of synergies by being together. And there should be pretty good cross-pollination with the clientele. For instance, a person really likes and collects on of my G2 artists so they come by. And as it turns out, they also need a rug for their living room (I have 1200 handmade rugs in inventory). Or they might need to have some framing done. Or a framing customer wanders over to G2 and falls in love with a little Roy Boswell landscape that they can't live without.
The overall idea is that we need to be exposed to more people, more retail traffic. The living artists represented at G2 have a patron base with which I, heretofore, was not well-connected. But now I have scores or hundreds of new folks who didn't know Fine Estate but will because of their interest in one of more of the represented G2 artists.