ASPEN - "We were seven years at Highlands, which seems a magic number," Alleghany Meadows said of the fine-art gallery he co-founded, the Harvey/Meadows Gallery, at Aspen Highlands Village.
Of course seven would seem like a magic number, comes the snarky reply: What other business has lasted seven years at Aspen Highlands?
But Meadows, and his gallery partner Sam Harvey, were thinking of seven more like a specific marker: "Like a life cycle for the gallery," Meadows said. "It seemed like some significant change was due."
Change has come. Having a notably successful run at Highlands has earned the Harvey/Meadows Gallery the privilege to move to a more heavily trafficked location, in downtown Aspen. The gallery opened at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. on Thursday evening with a reception for an exhibition of new works by California wood sculptor Robert Brady.
Meadows and Harvey say that they have had the conversation about once a year over the last few years. "Sam and I would both wonder enough to call a real estate agent, or go see a space, and say, What do you think?" Meadows said about the idea of moving closer to the action. "It was always in the back of our minds: What if?"
Putting the thought even closer to the front of their minds was the fact that their Artstream - an Airstream metal trailer that they converted to a mobile gallery - parked each Saturday during summertime's Aspen Saturday Market in front of a retail space that has been vacant for several years. The two inspected and inquired about the space occasionally before finally signing a lease.
The two gallery owners are enthused about the move. In particular, Meadows and Harvey, both of whom are active ceramic artists, are thrilled by the prospect of being able to share the work in their gallery with a wide audience. "The work is really great and people need to know about it, need to see it and get exposed to the ideas within the artwork," Harvey said. "They are contemporary ideas about time and space and color and color theory, politics. From people who are living at this time."
Still, the two don't feel as if they have escaped from one of the circles of retail hell. Highlands had its challenges. What rankled most was when the gallery would schedule an event, then watch as several other events in downtown Aspen lined up on the same day, leaving a significant portion of potential visitors saying, "Sorry, but ... it's just so out of the way."
But being at Highlands molded Meadows and Harvey into a specific kind of gallery owners, the kind who cultivated their own foot traffic. The gallery held frequent opening receptions and gallery talks, which drew consistently big crowds. Meadows and Harvey, both former students and workers at Snowmass Village's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, regularly invited entire Anderson Ranch classes to tour their gallery. Harvey/Meadows became an attraction, something besides skiing that drew people to Aspen Highlands; Meadows notes that there were many art lovers who would land at the airport and head to the gallery before continuing on to Aspen proper.
"Highlands, starting there, we learned how to have a community base and how to maintain that," Meadows said. "We had to be a destination. We couldn't rely on foot traffic. So in a way, we had to become a responsible gallery, an active participant in the art community, not just a retail venue. We've done the farmers market, and continue to do it, not because it's much of a financial gain, but to get the word out. We're doing the proselytizing work."
"Highlands helped us learn how to run a gallery, by trial and error," Harvey added. "And taught us how to get people's attention."
It may have seemed at times like a real effort, but Meadows and Harvey are pleased with the audience they brought to Aspen Highlands. "When we show good work, people come," Harvey said. When Betty Woodman, who has been the subject of a career retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had an exhibition of ceramic and works on paper in the summer of 2010, "We had more people at our opening than she has had at opening in big cities," Meadows said.
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Nor did the relative quiet of Highlands prevent Harvey/Meadows from becoming one of the country's premiere galleries devoted largely to ceramic work. Harvey and Meadows rank themselves in the top three, along with the Ferrin Gallery in Massachusetts and Santa Fe Clay. The Betty Woodman exhibition was a highlight, as was a show featuring the work of ceramics pioneer Peter Voulkos. They have also showed work by widely recognized artists Enrique Chagoya, Terry Allen, Roberto Juarez and the late Aspenite Paul Soldner, another giant of ceramic art. Harvey/Meadows has been a haven for valley artists, exhibiting work by Andrew Roberts-Gray, K Rhynus Cesark and Mark Cesark, Pamela Joseph, Robert Brinker, and Doug Casebeer, the longtime head of Anderson Ranch's ceramic and sculpture department. Scheduled for this spring is a one-person exhibition by Woody Creeker Isa Catto.
Meadows and Harvey launched their gallery to fill a niche they believed had opened in Aspen. There were galleries selling the highest end of contemporary art, and a bunch of galleries that treated art like a commodity, with all eyes focused on sales. What was under-represented was the middle ground: serious work, but accessible.
"We had seen Joanne Lyon's and Susan Duval's galleries, so we knew it had a ton of potential," Meadows said. After those galleries closed, "No one was showing the type of work we wanted to show."
"We thought of it as an experiment - that had a real good chance of being successful," Harvey said.
In terms of getting eyeballs on the art, Harvey/Meadows is almost certainly about to become a lot more successful. The new space should lure not just enthusiasts who will go out of their way to see art, but also passersby whose eyes get caught by a sculpture or bowl. But Meadows and Harvey don't plan to scale back their efforts at audience-building. Quite the opposite; with a more-convenient location, they anticipate an even busier events schedule. In early March, Harvey/Meadows will hold a three-day fundraiser event for Anderson Ranch's print-making program.
"We're not going to sit here and wait for people," Harvey said. "We're going to go out and bring them in. So gallery talks, artist events, openings, outreach - we'll still do all that. I want to do more fun things, more party-type things."
Meadows and Harvey point to one disappointment with the Highlands years. They had wished that other galleries had followed them to Highlands, taking advantage of the lower rents and relative access to Aspen to create a full-immersion arts experience. LivAspenArt, a working studio and gallery, has had a continuing presence at Highlands, but other galleries have come and gone. "It could have become like Canyon Road in Santa Fe, that kind of destination," Meadows lamented.
Other than that, it is with mixed feelings that they leave Highlands. The slow pace allowed them to devote serious time to those who entered the gallery. "When people came in, we could really give them our attention, walk them through the work," Meadows said.
Asked if there was any "get out of Dodge" feel to the move, Harvey said not at all. "No, no, no," he said. "We had a great landlord. We felt like we were succeeding - we succeeded there. Highlands was not bad for us."
"We're sad to leave," Meadows added. "There's a part of us, when we were unloading the U-Haul, saying, 'Are we sure we want to do this?' Our landlord said, 'Well, if you ever want to move back, let us know.' So there's that."
And there is one thing Highlands offers that downtown Aspen doesn't.
"In town here, people are going to complain about not being able to park," Meadows said. "Up there, we never heard that."