A product of the 19th-century silver mining boom, Park City, Utah, and its Historic Main Street was once littered with saloons, mills and mine buildings. The silver rush brought hundreds of fortune-seeking prospectors to the area that eventually put down roots in one of the most sought after mining towns in the West; some even claimed it to be the greatest silver camp in the world. The city was thriving with a population that rivals even today’s full-time residency.
Park City has since established itself as a prime resort destination for a new era of fortune seekers and faraway travelers. The city, also now home to the acclaimed Sundance Film Festival, is cradled in western Utah’s craggy Wasatch Mountain range and has long been known for its unparalleled skiing conditions with the nearby Deer Valley and Park City Mountain resorts ranking among North America’s best. However, visitors encounter more than snow boots and ski shops when strolling down Park City’s Historic Main Street, which pulses as the heartbeat of the town in the winter and summer months. With the growth of the ski community, specifically due to receiving the Olympic bid in 1996 and hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 2002, has also come the rise of a diverse and respected art market. What was nearly considered a ghost town after the collapse of the mining industry by 1950 was saved by the steep powdery slopes above the mines and is now home to a rich and lively art scene with over 20 commercial fine art galleries in a consolidated area.
“Park City is a destination for outdoor endeavors, but people are also finding that the gallery scene is worth watching and following,” says Gallery MAR owner Maren Mullin.
Gallery MAR opened in 2008 and is now one of Park City’s leading fine art galleries with 35 represented artists from across the country. Enchanting storefront window scenes with rotating artworks attract visitors into a modern and consciously curated gallery space, which Mullin refers to as having a “contemporary mountain aesthetic.” This style of artwork has come to dominate Park City’s market over the past decade, with new contemporary galleries continuing to open and existing dealers consistently increasing their representation of modern artists. The rise in modern mountain architecture in the area is one factor that stimulated the change, bringing a trendy and contemporary feel to the surrounding mountain ridges that are still veined with abandoned mining tunnels. Once exposed to the richness of the outdoor community as well as the dynamic local arts and culture, visiting skiers become second homeowners and sophisticated art buyers prioritize the mountain town art market. “Park City art collectors seem to respond to work that is on-trend but pushes some boundaries,” says Santa Fe painter Nina Tichava, whose pattern-based abstract and contemporary floral paintings are represented at Gallery MAR. “I love sending work to Park City to see what kind of response I get, which is so refreshing as an artist!”
<p>J GO Gallery owner Jude Grenney has been selling art on Main Street for over 25 years and has personally witnessed the rise of the contemporary market. “In the mid-1990s, abstract art was a hard sell,” she recalls. “Now I represent more abstract artwork than representational, though some of our best-selling artists do contemporary realism.” J GO Gallery specializes in artists who reimagine Western motifs through a contemporary style, and will host a solo exhibition this August for local mixed-media artist and gallery co-owner Curtis Olson.
<pJulie Nester Gallery, located just a few blocks off Main Street in the Iron Horse District, is another contemporary space that is not to be missed. The industrial warehouse-turned gallery space shows the work of modern midcareer and established museum-level artists including New York photographer David Levinthal, whose work is included in the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art collections in New York City. Nester worked in the art business in San Diego and San Francisco before opening her own gallery in Park City, giving her over 25 years of collective experience as an art dealer. Nester also credits Park City tourists as knowledgeable art buyers. “I think all the galleries are adding more and more established artists to our rosters because there are more people coming in town looking for that,” she says.
Even though the contemporary galleries are stacking up, that certainly doesn’t mean Park City is without high-caliber Western galleries. The art scene originated with traditional work concurrent to the region; galleries like Mountain Trails Gallery, whose historic space was once a silver miner’s bank, and Montgomery-Lee Fine Art uphold that legacy as strongholds in the community for the Western art collector. Linda and Craig Montgomery- Lee opened Montgomery-Lee Fine Art 21 years ago as one of the initial galleries on Main Street and have maintained a stable presence and esteemed reputation since the early ’90s.
“I’ve seen a crazy amount of growth,” says former art educator Linda Montgomery-Lee of the city’s gallery scene over the past two decades. “We’ve been a traditional gallery from the onset. I have a great respect for contemporary art, but my personal taste is realism and impressionism.” Montgomery-Lee will host the American Impressionist Society exhibition this fall, which will showcase prestigious artists from the national organization. The gallery also represents reputable Utah painters Jake Songer and Steve Songer, whose exhibitions attract a wide audience.
Historic Main Street a ords looming mountain views as you stroll towards its summit, where Meyer Gallery crowns the street in the former First National Bank of Utah. Meyer’s 1890 building along with the surrounding Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The gallery was fi rst established in 1965 by Darrell and Gerry Meyer and was purchased by their daughter Susan Meyer in 1997. The gallery represents a mix of representational and abstract work by emerging, midcareer and established artists. Meyer is a strong supporter of local arts; the majority of her roster is comprised of Utah artists, and she is president of the Park City Gallery Association. In addition to being an advocate for Utah artists, Meyer also organizes invitational exhibitions that expose visiting artists to the Park City market. Last winter she held an unprecedented ceramic invitational that was curated by a well respected local ceramic sculptor. The show gained national press and brought together some of the country’s leading artists of the medium.
Meyer, who has also owned a gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is proud of her hometown art market. “Park City has a significantly larger arts district than the other mountain resort towns of the West,” she says. “Other cities may have the same number of galleries, but when you combine that with the Egyptian Theater, the Park City Museum and the Kimball Art Center, the art district is more developed and rich.”
The Egyptian Theater presents year-round performances and is a major host for Sundance Film Festival screenings in late January. The Park City Museum promotes the colorful history of the town through Historic District tours and educational exhibitions, while the Kimball Art Center acts as the city’s community art center and cultural hub. Kimball plays an integral role in bridging the education and art communities by bringing high quality art curriculums and workshops into Park City schools. The nonprofit also hosts worthwhile rotating exhibitions; Richard Serra: Prints is currently on display through August 20. The Kimball Art Center is responsible for the highly popular Park City Kimball Arts Festival held annually in August, which brings more than 225 national jury selected artists to Park City. This spirited and profitable event is now in its 48th year and draws approximately $20 million in annual impact to Utah.
In addition to the Park City Kimball Arts Festival, outdoor recreation including golfing, hiking and biking, along with other funky community events like the Sunday Silly Market have caused Park City’s summer months to rival the visitation of the winter ski season. Galleries host a year-round art stroll on the last Friday of every month and keep hours that are catered to tourists, who are typically enjoying outdoor activities during the day and visiting Park City’s galleries, boutiques and exceptional restaurants in the evening.
From mined silver to Olympic gold, Park City boasts a new treasure trove that is catching the attention of art seekers from around the world. The city’s continued economic growth gives gallery owners like Meyer high hopes for the local art scene. “I think as the town continues to increase its international exposure, the quality and price point of the art will also continue to increase,” she says. “Hopefully that will be very beneficial to our artists in Utah and to our region.” Additional galleries and artists found in the area are Trove Gallery and William Kranstover, among others.
by Kelly Skeen