News Column

Optimism among gallery owners

July 11, 2014

By Dan Taylor, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

July 11--Everyone expects new growth in the spring and summer, but it's not only nature that's blooming. The Sonoma County visual arts scene shows signs of new life, too, with more than half a dozen new art galleries opening so far this year.

New spots for art lovers are popping up all over. The Christie Marks Fine Art Gallery and the Arena Gallery Fine Art and Design Gallery, both in Healdsburg, and the Chroma Gallery in Santa Rosa all opened in March. They were followed by the Icehouse Gallery in Petaluma in April.

The C14 Contemporary Arts gallery in Sebastopol opened its first show in May, and so did the Fulton X Gallery in the Fulton Crossing collective, just north of Santa Rosa.

In addition to new galleries, there has been some movement among established ones. After four years in Petaluma, the Calabi Gallery opened in a new space on Tenth Street in Santa Rosa in March. The Paul Mahder Gallery of San Francisco opened with an exhibit of art by John Lennon in late June at its new location in Healdsburg.

The new openings shouldn't necessarily be interpreted as a boom, warned Dennis Calabi, owner of the Calabi Gallery.

"A lot of galleries are opening, but a lot more have closed. It's a difficult market," Calabi said. "But I handle all media and styles. The only common factor is that I have to love the art to show it, and my tastes are broad."

Gallery owners still see cause for optimism, particularly with the growth of national and international wine tourism in Sonoma County.

"Possibly, the economic climate has changed," said Simmon Factor, co-owner with his wife, Robin, of the Chroma Gallery in Santa Rosa's A Street arts district. "Art is selling again, I believe."

Several of the gallery owners have backgrounds that include both art and business. The Factors owned the Village Art Supply store in Montgomery Village until they sold it two years ago. Calabi has specialized in art conservation and restoration for the past 45 years.

Christie Marks worked as an administrator for the Kaiser Permanente health-care system before she opened her own gallery in Healdsburg. But she's also a painter, with her own space among the studios housed behind the Chroma Gallery in Santa Rosa.

"The mission of my gallery is to connect cutting-edge collectors with the most inventive artists today. I want to shake up the local scene," Marks said, adding that she'll feature local artists, but not exclusively.

"It's wonderful to give support to local artists who are doing new and fresh things."

For Joe McDonald and Bill Kane, their IceHouse Gallery in Petaluma is a logical outgrowth of their already-established business, Digital Grange, providing support services to artists, including photographing, custom printing and framing.

"We wanted a venue for all the artists we've been working with," said McDonald, who added that he also hopes to host arts events and workshops at the gallery.

The C14 gallery at The Barlow, Sebastopol's new arts and shopping venue, is a collaboration between owner DebraLea Comstock and a core group of artists, a relatively recent reboot of her previous gallery there, the Counterculture Art House. Satri Pencak, formerly with the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, serves as curator for the C14 exhibits.

"DebraLea designed a business model where the artists would serve as a board of directors," said Martha Channer, artist and business manager for the gallery.

The Arena gallery in Healdsburg is part of much larger organization -- the Bespoke Collection, which owns three wineries and two other galleries, mostly in the Napa Valley.

"We focus on contemporary art that we think will appeal to the Bay Area collectors," said the gallery's director, Mik Hollis. "Healdsburg is well-established as a wonderful destination for anyone looking to collect art."

Not only are art galleries scattered all over the county, but they also cover a wide range of artistic styles. Here's a starters' menu for arts connoisseurs:

Arena Fine Art and Design Gallery, 115 Plaza St., Healdsburg. Contemporary art, featuring work by artists. 431-1612,

C14 Contemporary Arts at The Barlow, 6780 Depot St., Suite 100, Sebastopol. Work by a core group of local core artists, plus guest artists. 827-3020,

Calabi Gallery, 450 10th St., Santa Rosa. Art ranging from 19th-century to abstracts of the '40s through '60s to work by artists around the world.781-7800,

Christie Marks Fine Arts Gallery, 322 Healdsburg Ave., second floor, Healdsburg. Contemporary art. 695-1011,

Chroma Gallery, 312 South A St., Santa Rosa. Work by locally and internationally known artists. 293-6051, chromagallery.

Fulton X Gallery at Fulton Xrossing, 1200 River Road. Fulton. An artisan collective with studio, workshop and display space for artists of all kinds. 477-0567,

IceHouse Gallery, 405 E. D St., Petaluma. Features work by local artists and others. 778-2238,

Paul Mahder Gallery, 222 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Located across from the H2 Hotel.

(Reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or Read his Arts blog at


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Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)

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