POSTED ON DECEMBER 9, 2009:
Gallery artists reflect on 20 years in business and say goodbye to their studio
Dry Paint. The difficult decision to close the gallery came after its 11 owners couldn’t come to a consensus as to whether or not to renew its three-year lease with Utica Square. The country’s economic condition also played a role in determining to shut the gallery’s doors, Reed said. Shown: “Surprise Destination” by Diane Salamon.
After 20 years in business, Color Connection Gallery, 2050 Utica Square, will shutter its doors Dec. 12.
Founded by a team of nine artists, the cooperative gallery began its history on Brookside at 33rd Street and Peoria Avenue.
Of the nine founding artists, three -- Barbara O'Neil, Shirley Ward and Joanna Duck Tours -- are still with the gallery. The other founding artists include Dian Church, Louise Grayson, Betty Sellars (deceased), Fran Shurtless, Renee Reed and Ruth Lebow.
Current gallery artists include Anke Dodson, Margaret Enright, Joey Frisillo, Jeannie Graham, Linda McIntyre, Carla Perry, Robert Reed and Diane Salamon.
The difficult decision to close the gallery came after its 11 owners couldn't come to a consensus as to whether or not to renew its three-year lease with Utica Square.
The country's economic condition also played a role in determining to shut the gallery's doors, Reed said.
Reed, a painter who works in acrylic, has been with the gallery for three years. His wife Renee is one of its founders.
Owner artists bought into the gallery and paid a share of its rent and utilities. All of the owners work in two-dimensional media, while so-called associate artists provide the gallery with three-dimensional art, including sculpture, pottery, jewelry and glass art.
"I think we take pride in the fact that we introduced a lot of associate artists' work (to Tulsans) when they had no place to exhibit," Reed said.
Reed, Frisillo and O'Neil all said the gallery owners prided themselves on showing a variety of genres and media.
"Some of our best patrons said to me last Saturday, they said, 'There's just not another gallery in Tulsa that has the diversity of painting styles and media that Color Connection has," Reed said.
O'Neil said, in choosing member artists, the gallery's owners tried to choose artists whose work differed from what was already on display, filling a gap in the gallery's offerings.
The owners credit themselves with organizing the first gallery hop in Tulsa.
In 1991, Color Connection, led by O'Neil, worked with M.A. Doran Gallery and a couple of others on Brookside to organize the gallery walk. After it moved to Utica Square, the gallery's owners still made an effort to organize area gallery openings on the same night, with patrons "hopping" from one to another rather than walking.
The gallery also provided educational tours for students, painting demonstrations for the public and art donations for local charities.
O'Neil said the gallery's owners prided themselves on providing affordable art in a friendly atmosphere.
"We became friends with people," she said. "We wanted to present the best art we could and affordable art to the people of Tulsa. That was our mission, our goal. And it just grew from there."
Frisillo said Utica Square shoppers enjoyed coming into the gallery and browsing.
"Maybe they weren't buyers -- maybe they were never buyers -- but they loved coming to the gallery," she said.
She said people felt comfortable in the space and weren't intimidated by the artists or their work.
O'Neil said, before Color Connection, there had not been a cooperative artists' gallery in Tulsa that stayed in business longer than a year. She credits Color Connection's longevity to the business-like approach the owners took.
All of the artists who've been owners are members of the Tulsa Artists' Guild, a juried organization and one of the city's oldest arts organizations.
O'Neil said Color Connection provided a place for member artists to grow in their art.
"Almost all of us have had art in other galleries," she said. "I had art in a gallery in Taos for almost seven years. That would have never happened without Color Connection."
Gallery artists have won awards and taught classes.
"Doors just opened up," O'Neil said.
She also spoke of the friendships made.
"It's not just about selling your work -- that's important, no doubt -- but it's the relationships we've developed over the years with people, people who will still be calling us and asking for commissions," she said.
None of the artists who spoke to UTW had plans to join or open another gallery, and the group as a whole has no plan to do so.
Reed said he wasn't sure what he and his wife would do.
"We have a studio away from our house," he said, "but if I don't have a place to exhibit, I don't know if I'll continue to work up inventory."
He said the other artists are considering their options, and it's likely some will retire, given their age.
Frisillo said she's working on commissions and has pastel classes and workshops lined up in Tulsa, Stillwater and Arkansas. She said she'd like to pursue gallery representation again, but hasn't yet figured out where she'd like to look.
"I might just take a breather and focus on painting," she said.
O'Neil said there's been some discussion among Color Connection's 11 owners, and they hope and plan to exhibit work together two or three times a year under the name Color Connection. A location for the exhibits is yet to be determined.
When asked what she'll miss most about Color Connection, Frisillo said, "I will miss the regular contact with all the artists in the gallery.
"I guess sometimes you take for granted what is right under your nose," she said. That friendship and sharing a common endeavor is one thing I will miss. A lot of what an artist does is a solitary journey, and having an outlet like the gallery and the friendships built through it is something that is very valuable."
Tearing up, O'Neil said, "I'll just miss all of it. I really, really will. I think it's all the years we've been together and all the years we've shared and all the experiences we've had."
"It's just like a family after a while," she said. "You agree to disagree. We always followed Robert's rules: Everybody had their say, and we always took a vote. We all had a spirit of cooperation. And we all had so much fun."
Color Connection will be open from 10:30am to 5:30pm until Dec. 12 and sporadically for the couple of weeks after. Art will still be on the walls and for sale. Patrons are welcome to visit until the last remnant of Color Connection is gone. Call 742-0515 before you head over to make sure someone is there.
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