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Nantucket Art Bucks Sagging Trend

The Nantucket Independent, Sept. 24, 2003

The Nantucket Independent
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Nantucket Art Bucks Sagging Trend
By Panos Kakaviatos
Independent Arts Editor

According to a news release this month from Artprice, an online monitor of national art sales, the art market has been flat since July this year, with only 164 catalogued fine art auctions in August, compared to more than 400 in August 2002.

And the statistics are particularly sour with regard to what Artprice call "the peak of the market in 200," with auction art sales down 50 percent so far in 2003 compared to the same period in 2000 (from 27,275 lot sold in nationwide auction up until September 2000 to September 2003).

But for Nantucket gallery owners, the overall picture has been hardly grim on island, with some even sayin that 2003 was their best year ever, although most confirming that 2000 was a peak year, at least for walk- in sales.

"I had a better season this year than last, but nowhere near as good as in 2000," said Mary-Clair Barton of the Hoorn-Ashby Gallery on Federal Street. "And I think some of that has to do with people being in a better mood this past summer of 2002, following 9/11."

Bud Heidebur os the Spectrum on Main Street said it's hard to ignore the lingering effects of 9/11.

"I would say that in 2000, people were buying on impulse and it was a great year for us, whereas since 9/11, people take more time to decide," he said.

"But they do buy, on this island, and I had a great season in 2003, so I think you have to put everything into the context of this island, because artists have had a herder time selling over the past two years nationally, but not necessarily here," he added.

One gallery owner who did not want to be named credits President Bush's tax cuts for such positive results on Nantucket.

"I may disagree with his policies in may ways, but the tax cuts for the rich have certainly helped my business," the gallery owner said.

Kathleen Walsh of the Old Spouter Gallery says her high-end sales were very good in 2003.

"In fact, 2003 was the best summer season I had in the six years I have been in business," said Walsh, who was also director of the Nantucket Artists Association for eight years before opening her gallery.

Indeed Walsh sold three sculptures by one of her featured artists, John Evans, with one of them, Endless Squares, Fetching $65,000. [pictured]

But you need a gallery sponsor, according to independent island artist Susan Learnard, who did not do as well this year as in 2002.

"If you have a gallery that sponsors you and high-end art, you probably did well this year." she said.

Others point out changing tastes or styles affecting their market.

For example at the Hostetler Gallery on South Wharf, sculptor David Hostetler introduced a less overtly feminine style to his elongated figures, which for the first time ever include overlying materials, such as leather, bone, mink and burlap.

"Some of out clients need time to get used to that change," says wife and the gallery manager Susan, who said that 2002 was the best sales season at Hostetler since 1987, but that 2003 is not too far behind.

Barbara Vanderbilt, whose Features hot only sculpture and paintings but also jewelry, said that her best sales were in jewelry in 2003.

Meanwhile, Michael Vienneau of the Scrimshander gallery on South Wharf noted that his commissions on ivory tops for lightship baskets decreased this year, which suggests that either people bought fewer baskets or did not want to spend more money on the ivory tops for those baskets.

Heidebur, who sells baskets at the Spectrum, suggested the latter scenario, saying that his basket sales were better this year than in 2002.

"I wish I had more of Martin Brown's baskets to sell," he remarked.

Although people did not buy as many ivory basket tops from Vienneau, he did fine with his whale tooth scrimshaw.

"My business has been doing very well because sales of my whale tooth scrimshaw have been really steady."

For Jayne Hare Dane of the Dane Gallery on Centre Street, 2003 was successful because of a core clientele that buys regularly.

"we were just as busy this year as we were last year," she said."It's not necessarily the foot traffic that buys, but commissions from people who know us already."

On island since 1995, Dane is one of the few galleries that remain open all year round, in part because she and her husband Bob, who creates the gallery's elaborate and elegant glassware, also live in Massachusetts.

So it is easier to keep the store open on island, if only on weekends during the winter.

"It's important for the town, and we do get occasional customers in the winter as well," she said.

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