Art dealers are story tellers, Jane Hamilton believes.
"If you know the story" of a painting, or a painter, "you tell the story, and people love the story," said Hamilton, an art dealer for 30 years now, ever since Jim Parsons asked her to look after his Taos studio for three weeks while the receptionist was away.
"I walk in the door of his gallery, and I'm at total peace," Hamilton remembers of a moment three decades gone, yet as shining as the bright colors in her new gallery at Skyline and Campbell.
Hamilton sold some art during that Taos stint, and Parsons pronounced her an art dealer, not a receptionist. "Few people can sell art, but everyone can answer the phone," he said.
Last Friday afternoon, the phone at Jane Hamilton Fine Art was buried beneath paper. Hamilton was writing checks to artists at her desk, a surface covered with art books, 18-inch wooden sculptures of wide-canopied trees, artists' post cards, things to read and things to do. Jane Hamilton is a busy person, even when the economy has hampered the art business like it's done most everything else.
Don't talk to Jane about the "economy." It's irrelevant to her — or, more to the facts, in 30 years of art dealing, it's always like this, so why retrench? "We're very optimistic," she said, and to prove it, Hamilton has opened two galleries in the last four months.
This spring, Hamilton went back to Bisbee, where she'd owned a gallery for years, and in May re-opened on Bisbee's Main Street, in the classic tin-ceiling, hardwood floor building that was once Woolworth's.
"I took my old space back," Hamilton said. "I thought it was serendipitous, 2009, and 29 Main Street. The space was waiting for me."
And she moved her Tucson location from River and Campbell to Skyline and Campbell this summer, opening the doors Aug. 20. After a summer of work, Jane Hamilton Fine Art occupies a former art gallery and the space previously occupied by the boutique Pin Cushion. "I think it's a great space," she said.
The new gallery is ceiling to floor art, with walls brought in to add display space, about 2,150 square feet in all. "I don't like to be all cluttery," she said. And the larger room's white walls were an adjustment. "I like all kinds of colors."
Why open two galleries, now? "Either I'm crazy, or I don't care," Hamilton said. She must be crazy; Hamilton cares a great deal.
"This is where the best galleries in Tucson are located," she said of the new locale, with Finger Rock out the front windows. "I wanted parking. And I like the idea of the two spaces. I like things that are not ordinary. I'm a person who likes change."
Guests come in, and Hamilton jumps to assist. She tells a story, filling them in about a particular artist, that individual's style, the skill level and technique on display. A new frame might help this painting, she suggests to the couple. The phone rings. She's taking three pieces to a home in SaddleBrooke for trial hanging. She likes that aspect of the business.
"It's fun. You're in the home, and you're a guest," Hamilton said. "I get to see where they go, so I get to go back to the artists with a story."
Ahh, the story. In 1992, Hamilton was a single mother working three jobs to raise four kids. She was counseled to "open that gallery." Hamilton prayed about it, and did so, in Bisbee, with the grand sum of $400. Rent was $150, the deposit $200. A man walked in before Hamilton was anywhere near set up.
"What are you going to do if I buy this painting?" he asked.
"I'm going to buy a telephone, then business cards," she replied.
He agreed to buy the work, but only if it fit through the door of an airplane. It did so, by an inch and a half.
"Why don't you get a chair?" he said, and the answer, today, might be because she might not sit down in it.
"I never got rich, but here I am," Hamilton said. "It's what I do." And it's what she'll keep doing, regardless of the "economy."
"The art business is always up and down like a rollercoaster," Hamilton said. "It always turns on a dime." A dealer has no sales for days, even weeks, then "a miracle happens. There's no way to predict. If you don't mind that, you'd be a fine art dealer."
There's no talk of economics, nor of politics, in the gallery. "We just don't discuss these things. I just can't talk about it. Take five minutes and enjoy where you are. This is apolitical. It's like going to a concert. It's for your cultural, soul enrichment. The only soul left might be some original art out there."
Technology threatens the soul. Her latest target is the big-screen TV, now the centerpiece in so many American living rooms.
"We're decorating the room around a piece of metal," Hamilton said. "I don't have a television in my living room. Can't people just go into a beautiful place and enjoy it? Why do I want to look at the screen all day?"
Art is "the culture. This stuff isn't made in China. These are your neighbors, this is your culture. Either you support it, or you don't. I can't talk about the economics of the soul."
Art should not be purchased as a speculative investment, Hamilton believes. "You are your own best investment," she said. "That is it. Maybe some day, the guy is going to get rich and famous. Likely not. You buy his art, he gets to eat and pay the rent."
The work in Hamilton's studio is consigned. Hamilton displays it, advertises it, hosts shows for people to see it. She's sold the work of some artists for 30 years.
"Several artists here I've never met," among them a Delta Airlines pilot who lives in Kentucky, and a Japanese painter who prefers her native tongue to English. She's married to an American. "I always deal with her husband," Jane quips.
"We really don't know them, but we do know them, through their work," Hamilton said. "Artists come through the fingers. They are what they paint."
Nearly all of what she sells is original art work. "There's so many artists, in price ranges that are affordable, that are originals," she said. Her view of the business is fundamental — "Be open every day, be user-friendly, and sell them. It's simple, but it isn't easy. It's about attention. It's a people business. I like people."
Those four children, who grew up in the art business, have been a part of all of it. It has shaped them, and they have shaped it. "If I hadn't had the four kids, I couldn't have handled these 60, 65 artists," she said. "They all learned wonderful social skills, and my girls are great caterers." Those children, now young adults, are Sarah, Amy, Rebecca and Joseph. Hamilton is a proud mother.
One couple comes back to the gallery for a second look at a painting. "Tell me about her," the gentleman says of the artist, and Jane Hamilton tells the story, and sells the painting, the way she's done for 30 years.
Jane Hamilton Fine Art
2890 E. Skyline Drive, Suite 180, Tucson
29 Main Street, Bisbee