Rebirth of a gallery
Diane West Jewelry & Art opens on Main

The new Diane West Gallery opened recently in the 900 block of Main Ave. The gallery is dedicated to exhibiting and supporting the work of contemporary artists./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Stew Mosberg

Since the closing of the Ellis-West Gallery last year, there has been a void in the Durango art community. Artists, viewers and collectors of contemporary art now have cause to rejoice. The “West” half of the original duo has just opened Diane West Jewelry & Art, a successor to the previous venue.

Located at 934 Main Ave., the new gallery features West’s original jewelry plus the work of six other jewelry artisans. In addition to the wearable art, the gallery also showcases six contemporary painters and a sculptor, three of whom are local. The plan is to exhibit all the artists simultaneously with pieces varying from abstract to figurative plus what West refers to as “soft landscapes.”

West has been creating jewelry since moving to Durango 10 years ago. When asked why she chose Southwest Colorado over her hometown of Naperville, Ill., she unflinchingly replies, “I promised myself I would never again live in a place that I wouldn’t visit on vacation.”

West worked with Monica Ellis for four years before becoming co-owner of their gallery, but after the business closed, the jewelry artist considered opening one of her own. “I guess it was at the back of my consciousness for some point in the future, but I never had a hard date.” Then, waking up on New Year’s Day, she knew it was time and started looking at “every empty space” on Main Avenue. Before the month was out, she found the ideal spot.

Opening an art gallery in Durango in this economic environment might seem ill timed, but West is confident that the moment is right. “I feel that there is a collective optimism right now, after a couple of pretty hard years, and everyone that I spoke with in the beginning of January had such absolute enthusiasm for the idea, that it quickly became clear it was the right time for this.”

To be successful as an art dealer requires having an active collector clientele. According to West, her base is represented by more local than out-of-town customers. “We all know that tourism is a big part of the economy here, but it’s the locals who really make or break a business, so I am very interested in keeping them happy.”

That’s a valid philosophy for any business and keeping buyers happy is easier to do when you think positively about who they are. From her perspective, West believes Durango has an incredibly sophisticated demographic for the size of the town. “Those who come here are typically intelligent, interesting people with a wide variety of life experience,” she says. “That generally translates to an appreciation of art. I feel that people in Durango understand that beauty is a necessary component of life. People come here for the beauty of the area, and those same people can’t help but respond to high-quality art.”

The new gallery interior is accentuated by exposed brick walls, a fitting backdrop for the modern art, and includes jewelry showcases for each artisan. The space was most recently occupied by Rocky Mountain Children’s Co., a kids’ clothing store, and ironically had previously been the home of the former Ellis-Crane Gallery prior to West’s involvement.

With plans to hold four group shows a year, West’s roster of artists and jewelers will have a viable showcase for its work, and it will also mean producing a constant stream of new art. That might be stressful for the artists, but it will be a boon to art lovers.

Local painters Krista Harris, Joan Levine-Russell and Tess Jordan are represented in the gallery. In addition, Leslie Emery, of Wisconsin, will have her bold, graphic abstract work on view. The gallery will display the repetitive-pattern paintings and semi-abstract figuratives of William LaChance, an artist from St. Louis. Carey Reynolds, a sculptor from Boulder who creates small-scale mixed-media pieces, will be on show. The gallery will also showcase the vibrantly colored abstracts of Laura Terry, from Arkansas.

Some of the most unique jewelry at West’s gallery is by Pyper Hugo, who works out of Montana. Her rings, earrings and pendants are cut from the exteriors of old cars. Taking advantage of their original auto paint for coloration, Hugo forms the metal into intriguing shapes and turns them into functional accessories. Belle Brooke Barer’s line of jewelry is recognizable in its intricate detail and use of circle design elements, and they are original in every way. Tai Vautier, of Pagosa Springs, creates jewelry reminiscent of medieval or mythological adornment and is equally one of a kind.

The task of opening an art gallery, finding the right location and, most important, contracting the artists themselves, can be daunting. However, pulling it together in a couple months is a testament to West’s ability and reputation.

Diane West Jewelry & Art is located at 934 Main Ave. and is open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.



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