After a few months off from writing on Art Of The Horse, I’m excited to be back in full swing and starting off with Juliet Harrison, owner and founder of the Equis Art Gallery – a gallery like no other. Located in Red Hook, NY, just two and a half hours away from the bustling New York City, Red Hook lies in the heart of the Hudson Valley, a pristine location for people looking to escape from the their busy lives and enjoy the hometown atmosphere and local shops.
The Equis Art Gallery found its beginnings nearly six years ago when owner, Juliet Harrison, had a small one 350 foot room to show her own equine photography. At the same time, she was diagnosed with cancer and spent most of the next year in treatment and recovery. When the lease for the space came up, she had to make a decision: Keep the space even though she had no new work to show due to her recovery, or let her dream go. So, she decided to go big and bring the Equis Art Gallery into the world – a one of a kind space for equine art enthusiasts.
Today, the gallery is home to over 30 equine artists from across the world, with a central theme of the horse in art. Mediums range from paintings to sculptures, mixed media to photography and beyond.
Although I have not been to the gallery myself (only a few hours away!) It is definitely on my list of places to visit. I had the pleasure of interviewing Juliet for this article, and her answers are in-depth and thought provoking, a perfect balance between the mind of an artist and gallery owner. In the Q&A style interview below, you will find interesting gems of advice for both artists and collectors, behind the scenes of operating a gallery and ideas of what the future holds.
Art Of The Horse: How did the idea for the Equis Art Gallery come about? Looking back now, is there anything you would like to redo or change?
Juliet Harrison:My lease for the space was coming up for renewal, and I had to decide what to do with the space. Either give it up, since I had nothing new to show….or try to use it in a different way. At the time I was holding on to some paintings by Linda Shantz (who I still represent) to pick up from me. And I asked her if she would be OK with me trying to sell them for her. She agreed and one sold right away. Inspired by that immediate success, I asked about 10 more friends who were equine artists, if they would send work to me that I would try to sell. And that is how Equis was born.
When I moved the gallery from the first space to the storefront where it is today, 3 1/2 years ago, I did it with the help of a crowd funding campaign. For which I am ever thankful. And that move enabled me to reach farther to include the many more artists that I can now carry.
AOTH: When looking for new artists to represent, what are some key factors that are a must for you? Any tips for artists that are looking to be represented?
JH: I have three criteria for what I carry in the gallery. And each carries equal weight.
– First and foremost, the work has to be recognizable as Fine Art, regardless of the subject matter, the artist needs to be expert in their medium.
– Secondly, the artist needs to be intimately familiar with the horse. Not only the anatomy, but they have to be able to convey that they understand what happened the moment before the one that they have depicted, and can anticipate what will happen next. It should not just be that moment in time….but all of the elements before and after implied in the work. So most of my artists are “horse people”. Even those who most abstract the subject in the final product.
– Third, and often hardest to define….all of the work in the gallery is emblematic of my own personal aesthetic. I have to want to hang the work in my own home. If I did not feel that strongly about the work I curate in the gallery, I would not be enthusiastic enough to be able to sell it to someone else. Luckily, it seems that people like my point of view of the horse and art.
“This business is a partnership based on trust and respect. Between myself, the artists and the collectors.”
AOTH: For marketing, what do you think is a common mistake artists are making and what could they do better for their career?
JH: I think that it is important for any artist to develop a recognizable body of work over time. That is not to say that they can’t or should not work in different styles or mediums. Or that they should not evolve and change over time. But they should consistently build on what they have done before.
When marketing the work, understand that the collector wants to see that artist’s own style or voice in their work. Work that is unique. Not cookie cutter and not all over the map. Don’t try to market 10 different styles or mediums all in the same moment. Give them each their own space to be seen and in groupings that represent a body of work over time. If you have a website – everyone should – have different folders with the work separated and make sure you have at least 10 pieces in each grouping.
Another pet peeve of mine is to photograph it well! Unframed, straight on, well and evenly lit. That is a must for selling the work. And high enough resolution that the buyer and enlarge it enough to be able to really see what is going on in it.
AOTH: There is a lot of talk that galleries are no longer needed, at least in physical form. Do you think there is a chance you might go online full time, or do you still believe there is a need for the physical presence of a gallery?
JH: Do galleries still have relevance in the art marketing world? That is a really hard question to answer. Obviously, I think that they do, or Equis would not exist. When they do their jobs well, galleries do three things.
– Marketing, well, is a full-time job. Without gallery representation, that means that the artist needs to put more time in to marketing than creating. And let’s face it, not only is that a time suck for the artist, but many visual artist are just that because they are not comfortable writing or talking about themselves. If they were, they would be writers. And they are not business people for the most part. So marketing is hard for them. I will be honest, I love to talk about the artists and artwork that I carry in the gallery, but ask me to market my own work, and I freeze up. So if it is hard for me, it is torturous for most others.
– For a collector, buying work from a gallery legitimizes the value of the work. Most collectors are not confident in their ability to judge the value of the work that they like. But they know, if I am paying rent for the space that the work is being displayed in, then at least the know that I believe it has the value of the price on it. Or else why would I waste my money to represent it?
– Having your work in a gallery allows the artist to reach new markets that they would not necessarily be able to themselves through their own marketing efforts. And to be showcased with other artists means that you are now able to reach their collector base by being shown together with them.
AOTH: Do you find online sales coming in more then in person visits?
JH: 80% of what I sell, is online. All of the represented artwork that I have in the gallery is on my website, and I use social media marketing constantly. So, I could take all of the artwork to a storage unit or my home and make those sales there, and make money instead of paying rent, insurance and utilities. But I would hate that. I am a social person. I love to be out in my community. And, having a storefront for me also legitimizes the value of the work for the collector as I mentioned above. This is central to my intent for this gallery, and this goes back to 3 ½ years ago when I moved the gallery from that tiny back room to an actual storefront – central to the Equis purpose, is that I wanted this gallery to be a way for me to pay it forward to the groups that supported me during my cancer journey.
The artist friends and my small-town community that rallied around me. By selling their art, I get to help my artist friends. By bringing people to our town specifically for Equis, I help everyone else here. Because when they come for Equis, they need places to stay, places to eat and they shop in the other stores. Because Equis is unique in the world, it draws people to Red Hook. And that is part of my purpose.
AOTH: If you could have your gallery anywhere in the world, where would it be?
JH: Would I move it elsewhere? I certainly do not need to move to a community where my expenses would be higher. Especially with my online sales being the bulk of what I do. Might I consider a community where the expenses would be less but the in gallery sales higher? Certainly. And we have been looking at other options. My husband is close enough to retirement age that we have some flexibility coming up in the next 5 years or so. But then again, I love being a part of my community and knowing that I am contributing to the general economic health therein.
AOTH: How many artists do you represent today?
JH: Equis is unique. I represent over 30 contemporary equine artists from all over the world. And I am the only full-time gallery that does that. Whatever else that I may do or show here – when you look online or walk in the storefront, what you see is contemporary equine art. I carry work that cannot easily be found together in any other single place in the world. So that is what allows people to find the gallery online and draws them to come here in person.
That said, I do carry other things in small numbers in the gallery. I am a storefront, and what I know, is that not everyone who walks in the gallery, is a horse lover. So, I carry work by the artists that I already represent, of other animals. I try to keep it focused on livestock, pets and American wildlife. So it is still the same artists and works well with the equine art. The same, I hope, can be said of the gift items as well. The vintage mostly Native American jewelry, artwork and decorative items in the gallery. It provides a nice balance to what I represent. But I will never stop being focused on the equine art. Any art gallery is a difficult business to have. And it helps the bottom line to have those other items here. Again, they seem to work with the general aesthetic of the gallery.
JH: The most frustrating thing about any retail business is to find your target audience and to grow your customer base. I have worked in retail for over 40 years. So I understand that about this kind of business. For being an art gallery, and more, and equine art gallery, it has been difficult to reach a larger customer base.
Print advertising is very costly with very little return on the investment. You can go broke very quickly trying to advertise. I have not found the idea of doing temporary shows at horse show, race track or polo events to be cost effective. I have a gallery newsletter that gets emailed out. And I try to aim my FB and Instagram posts so that they aim at new markets for me. The Hudson Valley, where the gallery is, is growing in popularity. So I am trying to do more to reach the new residents, decorators and designers. And of course, it is frustrating to get through the slow months here. Winter can shut down businesses for sure. So budgeting the pool of resources is important. But I must being doing something right, as I am still around 5 years after opening. And I am certainly not a wealthy person doing this just as a hobby.
With that being said, I find the whole marketing thing an exciting challenge. I work hard at finding new ideas and fun ways to represent the gallery to collectors. I love to invite people to come visit the Hudson Valley for a vacation and to contact me so that I can help them plan their trips with suggestions of places to go and see, and historical and edgy exciting areas of interest.
AOTH: About how many new artists to do you represent each year?
JH: I sometimes have as many as 20 artists contacting me for representation in any given month. As the gallery is only 850 square feet, I am only able to add new artists as other drop out for any given reason. Sometimes it if simply that an artist has changed subject matter. One recently stopped painting horses at all and is now just doing figurative work. Or their production has slowed down enough that I don’t have any new work to fill in what I have sold. Then I can look for someone to add. But what I pick has to work with the mix of the other work I have here already. As I said, it is a small space crowded with work and there has to be a visual flow and continuity to how it is curated.
Right now, I have 38 artists whose work I represent. But it is a fluid thing. I don’t have a favorite medium. Although I am not fond of traditional watercolor work. On the other hand, Benedicte Gele uses watercolor in her mixed media and it is, well, wow! Nor do I have a favorite artist. The work that I have in the gallery, is here because I love it and would happily take it all home with me if I could. I do literally, come in the gallery each day when I open and I decide which I would bring home that day if I could.
“Best advice for beginning artists – keep doing it, don’t get arrogant, find mentors, take classes, look at lots of other work. Take it all in, refine and rework the ideas so that you have a style, a message, a voice all your own that shows in the work. “
I have several artists whose work I just love that I do not represent. And they are on my list as a goal to represent some day. At this point their work is either too large for my space or priced a little higher than my current clientele will pay. But some day!
I will have to have three times the space and the range of collectors that can support anything I want to carry. Right now, the gallery has original art priced from $15.00 on up to a few thousand. With a full range in between. Something for everyone to afford.
AOTH: Any special events coming up this year?
JH: I am doing these Artisan PopUps this year. With different local crafts artisans having work in the gallery each month. Not equine, but it bring a new audience to the gallery that might not have walked in before. And the work is high end that fits well with what I have here. It covers a 6’ table in the front of the gallery. I will probably have several artists come to do demonstrations and artist talks, too. Linda Shantz, Kate Gwizdak Dardine and Alecia Barry Underhill will probably come.
I am also hoping to have Sandy Rabinowitz back to do another wire sculpture workshop. But none of that is fully scheduled. The best way for people to know what is happening, is to sign up for the gallery newsletter on the website or follow on FB and Instagram.
AOTH: Any advice for aspiring artists?
JH: Best advice for beginning artists – keep doing it, don’t get arrogant, find mentors, take classes, look at lots of other work. Take it all in, refine and rework the ideas so that you have a style, a message, a voice all your own that shows in the work.
AOTH: Do you have many overseas artists and how costly is it with shipping? Do you have their pieces in the gallery, or only online?
JH: I do carry artists from outside of the US. Shipping can be a problem. I wish I could carry more of them. I find that shipping work to the gallery is less expensive than if I have to ship it back. And I have even shipped work back that got assessed a customs fee, even though it is art returning to an artist. They then have to go and fight to get that money back. For overseas collectors purchasing work, they pay for the shipping costs directly and any customs fees are their responsibility.
“I feel strongly about the non-traditional work that I carry here. It is not typical horse and hound, English countryside art. It is not commissioned portrait work, although most of my artists will do commissions.
And it is not the romanticized sentimental horse art that you can find all over the internet. This work challenges the viewer some. This work does not have other venues that these artists can show it at consistently.
It is self generated artwork that steps outside the box a bit. As my tag line says, ‘The Equis Art Gallery, where a white horse is not just white, a black horse is not just black and a beautiful horse is not just pretty.’ “
AOTH: Have you ever considered having a gallery apprentice or intern?
JH: I would love to find one! I would love to find a financial backer or partner as well. It is hard to do this all by myself. I am here Wed – Sunday. I have no time to spend with my husband. I spend my days off packing and shipping art. Or doing administrative tasks like paying the artists and taxes. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE what I am doing. But it has been an intense 5 years. I have not found any interested dependable intern from any of the local colleges, unfortunately. I would love to teach someone else about how to do this. And…honestly, I am a 61-year-old cancer survivor…I would love to think there would be someone out there who would want to take over this business someday, if it still exists.
Thank you, Juliet for letting me interview you and share your story with the Art Of The Horse followers! This was such an interesting article to ponder and write. I’m looking forward to visiting the Equis Art Gallery this summer and the rest of Red Hook!
To find out more about the Equis Art Gallery, be sure to follow it on Facebook and Instagram and visit the webpage below!
If you have any questions for Juliet, you can email her here:
What did you find surprising or enjoy the most? Leave your thoughts in the comments on this article, on the Facebook Page , Group and Instagram to find out what others are thinking.