“We’re going to tear it down at the end of the season.”
So said the owner of 203 Park Lane in February 2007, after offering me the space for the coming summer. The previous summer, I had begun showing my work through other stores in Estes Park. One of those places was a temporary t-shirt shop on Elkhorn Avenue, where I actually managed to sell a number of large pieces. So, the next winter I began looking at potential places to open a small gallery.
When the offer came to rent the old candle shop on Park Lane for the summer, my heart stopped. This was the opportunity I had been looking for. The price was very generous, but I had only $3,900 in my account. I had spent over a decade working with non-profit organizations in the Balkan Peninsula of Europe; I had returned to the US exhausted and with little in the way of resources. Having just completed a master’s degree, I had spent most of my little savings to help keep us from going into debt. I would now need to buy building materials, paint, a sales register, lighting, signage, and pay for rent- not to mention, I also had to have a lot of artwork produced for the walls. That money wasn’t going to stretch very far. Could I even cover two months’ rent? The busy summer season was still over two months away. Would I make it?
After a day of thinking and praying about this offer, I decided to accept it. It was a very scary move. Fortunately, my commitment would only be until the end of the summer, as the owner intended to tear the building down and build something new in its place. If I survived the summer, I would have a better sense if my little photography gallery idea was just a dream or a real possibility.
A couple of friends who were knowledgeable about how to use things like saws and hammers graciously volunteered their time and even some of their own funds to help me turn this old, smelly candle shop into an art gallery. Since the building was going to be torn down anyway, the owner said I could do whatever I wanted to the building. So, we went to work building walls, tearing out old fixtures, and putting in new lighting. Then it was time to hide everything behind a couple of layers of paint, both inside and outside. Other friends donated baskets of pinecones, lichen covered rocks from their yard, and other things to help bring a touch of nature inside.
On the evening of April 14, 2007, I opened the door to the public for the first time. We had an open house that evening that was attended by a number of friends from Estes Park, as well as many photographer friends who came to support me from across the Front Range. I had met most of these photographers just three years ago when I was still trying to figure out which end of a camera to look through. They were shocked to see me already opening my own gallery. It was a great evening, and I had a real sense of accomplishment to have made something of a gallery out of this old place.
The next morning the real work began. I opened the doors and awaited my first customer. It was slow, as is very normal in April in Estes Park, but during the next two weeks I sold enough to pay for rent. The following month, I was able to pay myself back a little bit, and by summer things were looking very hopeful. That summer, the owner decided not to tear the building down, but instead to sell the building to someone else who had a very different plan. My lease was extended, and I even managed to survive through the first winter, despite the start of a major economic recession.
It has now been 15 years since the day we opened. We’ve weathered floods, fires, a pandemic, changes in staff, and much more. All of you have made it possible for this little gallery to continue to thrive and to bring a bit of beauty into the lives of so many people. Since then, my artwork has ended up in nearly every state in this nation, in countries across the world, in hospitals, hotels, lawyer and dentist offices, at places like the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton, in homeless shelters, and places of refuge for those in desperate situations. This little gallery has helped to fund hundreds of small businesses on every continent except for Antarctica, helped to feed and clothe those in need, support creativity and innovation, preserve the natural world, fund new non-profits like Nature First, and even care for our own beloved Rocky Mountain National Park.
While this took a leap of faith on my part to get this started, it is all of you who have made it a success. Thank you for your support of me, my staff, and our shared dream of being a small ray of light in this world.
Over the year's we've made a number of changes to the gallery. Here's what it looks like these days.