The owner of Sorrel Sky Gallery expands to Santa Fe with a fresh vision for the art world
This story was featured in the March 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Shanan Campbell Wells founded Sorrel Sky Gallery in Durango, CO, in 2002. In June 2014 she opened an expansive and attractive second location in Santa Fe, NM, that has made a splash in one of the West’s largest art markets. As the daughter of Northern Cheyenne jewelry artist and former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Wells grew up in the art world. After being educated in art and business, she worked in product development and licensing for the Smithsonian Institution and as a western states art scout for the Franklin Mint before entering the gallery world. We talked with Wells about the expansion and her plans for the future.
At a time when not many galleries are taking risks, what inspired you to open a second gallery, and why in Santa Fe? As part of my long-term business plan, I always planned on having multiple locations. But I think it really was the opportunity to acquire the building in Santa Fe that made me make this move.
Why that particular building? The building itself is a work of art and has had a long history of really wonderful, strong, impactful galleries. It was originally the Elaine Horwitch Gallery. Elaine was an art dealer in Santa Fe in the mid-1970s and really brought contemporary art to Santa Fe. She was an inspiration to me to pursue a career in the art business. We currently represent several artists who showed in that space with Horwitch over 30 years ago. I feel like it is the most special space for Sorrel Sky in Santa Fe.
Since it opened last summer, how would you describe the reception? We had about 1,000 people attend our grand opening. Santa Fe has been incredibly open and positive—very welcoming. I have several friends who own galleries in town, and they have been pleased to see some fresh growth and newness coming in, especially considering it’s been a tough market.
Do you represent the same artists in both spaces? We represent a number of the same artists in both places, but the Santa Fe gallery is different. In Durango, we have a very eclectic blend of art and artists. In Santa Fe, we represent a more concentrated niche. The concept for the Santa Fe gallery is “fresh western,” blending the old and the new in a fresh way—painters like Billy Schenck, Carrie Fell, and Tom Palmore, and sculptors like Star York. And, of course, we represent my father’s jewelry.
What was most challenging about opening a second location? I take the art business very seriously, with a clear vision and long-term goals, and I work with a team of colleagues in Durango who are aligned with that mission: long-term thinkers and believers in what we’re doing that’s so important. The most challenging part of opening the new location in Santa Fe has been finding a group of people who’ve never worked with me, and who’ve never worked with each other, yet share one common goal.
Now it’s starting to gel? Yes, I’ve found a really solid, wonderful group of people who are like-minded about the art business, about the future of the gallery, and are excited to be a part of it.
Do you use the same approach in both galleries? My marketing style is pretty high-touch, in that I’m very much interested in being a part of the community. That’s my value system in Santa Fe as well—really networking and being involved in the community. Among other events, we’re going to be involved in ARTfeast’s Edible Art Tour in June. This year Carrie Fell will be the poster artist for the event, and we’re partnering with The Shed restaurant in Santa Fe.
In 2013 Sorrel Sky launched one of the industry’s first e- commerce websites.… Yeah, that took about two years to build, and it includes everything from both locations. Since we launch-ed it, over 10 percent of our business is from e-commerce— we make it easy for our customers to shop at the gallery from their own homes. It’s totally different than a gallery just having a website.
What do you see on the horizon? I also have an art consulting firm, SCW Art Consulting, which I started at the same time as the Durango gallery. My long-term plan is to have an additional gallery location and continue evolving and growing to be a stronger presence in the world of art. —Interview by Gussie Fauntleroy
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