Sorrel Sky to mark milestone

Courtesy of Sorrel Sky Gallery

Sorrel Sky Gallery drew a huge crowd when it opened its doors April 2, 2002. The Main Avenue gallery will celebrate its 10th anniversary tonight.

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

Fires. Armed conflict. Mass relocation.

Such hardships sound more like Bosnia in the ’90s than a Main Avenue art gallery, but no, those are just a few of the bumps in the road during Sorrel Sky Gallery’s first decade in business.

“I guess the reason it’s a big deal, at least in my mind, is because of just what these last 10 years have brought, as far as challenges,” said Sorrel Sky owner Shanan Campbell Wells as she prepared for tonight’s 10th Anniversary Show & Celebration.

The fires, which included two well-publicized Main Avenue blazes and the Missionary Ridge Fire in Sorrel Sky’s opening year of 2002, spared the gallery at its former location at the corner of Ninth Street and Main Avenue. Wells and her husband, John, bought the building formerly occupied by Hogan’s clothing store last year and moved the gallery a few doors down the block.

But by far, the most notable story in Sorrel Sky’s history came in 2008, when an armed robber made off with about $400,000 in jewelry, much of it made by Wells’ father, Ben Nighthorse. Most of it later was recovered in Las Vegas, but it was just another example that when running a business, it’s impossible to prepare for everything.

“Some hard lessons learned,” Wells said. “But I’m hard-headed enough that I’m not sure if there was any other way I would have learned some of these lessons. Lessons like: plan for the best, but prepare for the worst; everything is really about relationships; and never give up, there’s always a solution.”

To be sure, there’s been more good times than bad, and that’s what Wells will celebrate tonight. About 30 of her artists, including newcomers Phyllis Stapler and Tony Newlin, will be at tonight’s party meeting people, signing their work and just having a good time. Newlin is Sorrel Sky’s first photography artist.

Other highlights tonight will include a sneak peek at Nighthorse’s museum of Indian jewelry-making, which he’s in the process of setting up in the Sorrel Sky basement.

Also, sculptor Michael Naranjo will have signed copies of his new book Inner Vision for sale. Naranjo lost his eyesight as well as the use of his right hand in combat in Vietnam, yet he’s become one of the most lauded sculptors in the country since sustaining his injuries.

Wells set out on her own after working for years at Jackson Clark’s Toh-Atin Gallery and had Clark’s blessing when she opened Sorrel Sky just a block away. She never intended to compete directly with Toh-Atin, which has built its reputation on fine Native American art. Wells had a different vision for Sorrel Sky, and the gallery is evidence of her success.

“I started the gallery on the premise that Durango was finally ready for a really nice western art gallery, similar to what you see in Jackson Hole or Vail,” she said.

“I think the thing that is remarkable, is through good times and bad, I never gave up,” she said. “Every time something would happen, my first reaction would be: What can I do to turn this around? Giving up was never, and is never, an option – no matter what.”

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