Today the Hidell Brooks Gallery celebrates its 20th year anniversary with the exhibition ’20 on the 20th’. All 45 artists that the gallery represents are featured, and I had the opportunity to interview gallery owners Katharine Hidell Thomas and Rebecca Brooks about how they started the gallery and about what it’s like building relationships with both the artists they represent and the clients who bring the artwork from the gallery into their homes.
This interview was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve had both as an art lover and as a blogger. (I never could imagine how starting a blog would give me the chance to talk with so many amazing artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs and I’m grateful for every experience that comes my way.)
Through talking with Katharine and Rebecca it is clear that their friendship has been the key to the gallery’s success and I’m so thrilled about the opportunity to give you an inside look into the Hidell Brooks Gallery.
Katharine Hidell Thomas // Rebecca Brooks
This year the Hidell Brooks is celebrating its 20th year anniversary. Tell me about how the gallery began and what drew you to the Southend area.
We first met each other when we were working at another gallery. When we got our space here in the Southend, it was a new area of Charlotte, and we were the only tenant in our building. Sullivans had just opened across the way, and we didn’t have any artists yet. One thing we did know was we didn’t want any crossover artists from the previous gallery, we wanted to do what was us. At that time our only support system was our family and friends.
We started the gallery with the goal to bring in artists that had rarely been shown in the Southeast before. We don’t have contracts with any of our artists and prefer to build a relationship of trust with the artists that we represent. We genuinely care about both the artists and clients we work with. Many times we will go into people’s homes, and our installer, Wes (husband to one of our artists Sarah Helser) will send us pictures of the final installs. Our favorite part of the whole process of selling a painting is seeing the art in its final place.
Who were the artists that were shown in the gallery’s first exhibition?
We had about 18 or 20 artists in our first show which included David Kroll, Tony Hernandez, Eric Aho, and Brian Rutenberg. We’ve always gone with artists that we believed in and who our clients respond to.
You’ve worked with many artists over the years, and developed relationships with them over time, is there an artist who has impacted you the most?
David Kroll. He was part of our first exhibition, so he’s been with us since the gallery began. We found him while we were at a Chicago Art Fair, and we wooed him with grits and double-dip pecans.
He exudes kindness, is humble, and will always get you the show on time as promised. We’ve had ten exhibitions featuring his work and we have another one coming up this August.
How would you describe the artistic style of the artists that Hidell Brooks represents?
Our artist’s styles are across the board, so it’s hard to narrow it down to a particular artistic style. We go with artists who have a strong visual language and have their own voice that sets them apart and makes them unique.
What is your process for finding new artists to show in the gallery?
While we don’t travel as much these days, we find our artists by traveling to different cities, attending art fairs and our greatest resource are our artists themselves. Many of our artists are professors and they recommend some of their talented students. Most of the recommendations that we get are from artists that haven’t been shown in galleries before.
We’re always looking for new artists and we’ve held exhibitions we call, ‘Introductions’ where we introduce a group of new artists and see how our clients respond to them.
Has there been a particular piece in an exhibition that has impacted you on a personal level?
Tony Hernandez’s figurative work. It’s haunting, beautiful, and lonely, but there is something symbolizing hope in his paintings.
Tony’s also proof that artists don’t look like their art. Tony has come to the gallery on his Harley that’s so loud you can’t hear each other speak, and yet his paintings are so beautiful and calm.
Is there a piece that you knew you had to have the moment it arrived in the gallery?
We used to pick out pieces from many of the exhibitions, but we’d always agree to wait until after the exhibition was over. We both have pieces by pretty much all of the artists we represent (both past and present) and when we look for an artist we always consider if it’s an artist whose work we’d want to have in our own homes.
What emotions do you feel as you are packing up a painting to go to its new home?
Happy and excited. We’re excited for the artist, the collector, and everyone who is a part of the process. It’s a win/win for everyone.
Out of the galleries 20 years, what would you say has been your biggest achievement?
Maintaining our friendship. We are best friends and our success has a lot to do with our friendship.
The bones of this place is me and you. – Rebecca Brooks
We also rely on word of mouth rather than working with a PR team. It’s more personal that way. That’s one of the reasons why we have our desk right as you come in the door. It allows us to greet everyone who visits the gallery and makes us more approachable.
We also cherish our relationships with our designers, art consultants, and artists.
Another thing we’ve always been upfront about is our pricing, we list the price of all of our paintings on our website, which is not a common practice for an art gallery.
What did you enjoy most about preparing for the anniversary exhibition?
While it was a challenge getting work from so many artists, and deciding how we wanted to display the art, we were relieved when everything was finally up on the walls.