Each week CGN interviews a local art dealer to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Jean Leigh, owner of The Leigh Gallery.
Current Position: Owner of The Leigh Gallery
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Previous Occupation: Bartender all over Chicago, Corporate overseeing 250 employees, Artist
5 favorites from the past week:
1. Restaurant: Frontera Grill
2. Shop: Unabridged Bookstore
3. Read: “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much” by Mark Shaw
4. Neighborhood: I love exploring all of the amazing and unique neighborhoods in Chicago- too many favorites.
5. Music: Devo, Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, extremely varied -so many bands are important to me.
Chicago Gallery News: Tell us about your background and how The Leigh Gallery came to fruition?
Jean Leigh: I decided to leave corporate and go back to creating my highly- detailed Pen & Ink drawings. I worked the art fair circuit and did very well. I showed in numerous galleries.
Unfortunately, my eyes were getting very bad and I couldn’t see the actual point of my 6x0/.13 Rapid-O-Graph technical pen (which was the only pen size I use). I knew I couldn’t continue and I thought that if I can’t create art, I might as well surround myself with it! I knew lots of artists from the galleries and fairs; I looked around my home at all the artwork I’d collected over my lifetime, called them and asked that if I opened an art gallery in Chicago, would they like to join me and they all said “yes”!! Thirteen years later, we now have over 80 artists of my choosing, mostly local from Chicago and are thriving in the heart of Boystown!
CGN: Share a typical day in the life.
JL: This gallery is a two-person operation so…I arrive, take care of all the business/ management aspects and open at 11:00am. Locals and people from surrounding suburbs purchase their artwork from us. About 50% of our business is from tourism. We get people from all over the world here, they come to Boystown and to visit Chicago. We cater to customers from all walks of life- my whole design/ plan has been to sell high-quality original artwork at reasonable and affordable prices. This plan has worked very well.
My assistant, Joe, has been with me for 12 years and takes care of hanging all of the artwork- we showcase the work salon-style. New work arrives just about daily so it is an on-going puzzle on how to get everyone’s work seen and shared with our public. He also takes care of most of the social media. Lots of cleaning! It is very entertaining every day! The conversations and humor that occur in this area make each day enjoyable and so much fun!
CGN: Best sale you ever had?
JL: The best sales are when the customers are leaving with their purchase, and I can hear them say how fun their experience was! That is always a thrill and it happens often! Also when they send pictures of their new artwork in its “forever home”!
CGN: Share some successes as well as challenges this year.
JL: My customers are amazing- they have taught me so much and continue to do so. The art world is very alive and being taught from so many collectors and aficionados is pretty darned special
I’ve had many customer and artist deaths this year. It is something I hadn’t considered when I opened and it always (of course) throws me- hard.
CGN: How do you see Chicago’s art scene in comparison to other cities? What do you think makes it particularly unique?
JL: Chicago’s art scene is very alive, vibrant, and in-the-now and know. It is assessable and not as intimidating as other cities. We see the value in education, experience and ownership of art. We work hard sharing our expertise letting everyone know its importance in life and the appreciation and fun in ownership.
CGN: What do you want a young person to know who is considering this business?
JL: Keep/ treat it as a business. It is not a museum, bar, or big fun! It is a very important and responsible job. I have watched many galleries close because the owners thought it was an ongoing party.
CGN: One piece of advice you would tell your younger self when starting out?
JL: Do not listen to the negative/ naysayers. Always be upbeat about your business. Do not tell of personal woes or issues with your business- If you portray success, you will, most likely, be successful. It still surprises me, to this day, when people ask if we actually sell. We couldn’t be here if we didn’t. Remain positive. Galleries are of such importance to our neighborhoods and culture.
CGN: Favorite cultural pursuit outside of the art world?
JL: Reading and writing- I will write a novel in the next 5 years.
CGN: Favorite work of public art in Chicago?
JL: Hebru Brantley’s wall mural in Uptown always makes me smile. Also the whole sculpture park along the bike path on McCormick Avenue is a GREAT visual experience!
CGN: Artists you admire most.
JL: I truly admire all of the artists I’ve hand-picked to be in my gallery. All of their talents and the risks they have taken are inspiring. Jan Vermeer and Albrecht Durer are my favorites of old school.
CGN: What’s coming up next at the gallery?
1. JL: The Holiday Sweets Stroll (with LakeView East Chamber of Commerce) will take place on Saturday, December 2nd from Noon to 3pm.
2. The Leigh Gallery Holiday Party!! December 8th from 5:00pm – 9:00pm.
Jean Leigh is the owner of the The Leigh Gallery in Boystown, Chicago. For more information about the gallery please visit: theleighgallery.com