Austin was a sleepy college town and West Sixth Street was solely known for its Sunday brunch back in 1980 when the Wally Workman Gallery was established. Today, Austin is the 11th largest and 2nd fastest growing city in the country. As the city has changed, the gallery has been able to expand its programming. The gallery celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. We sat down with partner, Rachel Stephens, to chat about her role at the gallery and how it’s changed in the past 3 decades…
How long have you been with Wally Workman Gallery?
I’ve been at the gallery for 9 years and a partner for 3!
What is your background?
I was born and raised in Austin, Texas then moved to Memphis, TN to attend Rhodes College, where I played soccer and majored in Studio Art with minors in Business and Spanish. I moved back to Austin after school and worked at The Austin Museum of Art as well as here at Wally Workman Gallery for a year. Then I went full time at Wally’s and I’ve now been here 9 years. I became a partner in the business 3 years ago. I also founded aether magazine 5 years ago with Judith Taylor, the owner of Gallery Shoal Creek. We continue to put out 2 issues a year.
What’s your typical day like?
My typical day… that changes often! I open the gallery at 10am with my sweet pup Nasa and then respond to emails for both Wally and myself. That consists mostly of client and artist relations. Clients come in throughout the day and I go through inventory with them to find exactly what they’re looking for. A lot of my day is spent finding artwork, unwrapping it, presenting it and discussing the artist with the client and then wrapping up the pieces they decide against and storing them again. And the other half is spent communicating with artists about shows, choosing work for the gallery, giving them advice, etc. I also maintain our website, updating new inventory daily, and all of our social media sites. I write press releases and design all our web and print ads. So, I fit all those things in between dealing with clients and artists, but the time with clients and artists take priority.
How has the gallery changed over the years?
In 1980, the local market could support art posters and now in 2015, the gallery represents 60 different artists with work ranging from landscapes to more process oriented color field studies to figurative work that comments upon and reflects the social climate. The gallery’s clientele has evolved from a small group of loyal, local collectors to a dynamic, regional and international base.
What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?
The most difficult part of my job has to be the hand-holding, clients and artists alike.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Gosh, who are my favorite artists, I think that’s kind of like asking a chef their favorite food. I like something about a lot of artists! I tend to lean towards the figurative. Of the classics: Manet, Ingres, John Singer Sargent. I just saw the Kehinde Wiley show in Fort Worth and it was great. And of course we represent my favorite emerging artists, so all you have to do is come in the gallery and you immediately get an idea of what I gravitate towards.
Favorite galleries or museums?
Musee d’Orsay, Guggenheim in Bilboa, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the entire city of Barcelona as well as Mexico City and approachable galleries similar to ours like Robert Lange Gallery in Charleston, SC.
What are your favorite neighborhood spots?
Clark’s for Sancerre & oysters after work, Mecca for massages/spa treatments, and the tomato & herb cream cheese on Bialy bread with an iced coffee from Sweetish Hill Bakery is the perfect morning treat!