Trailblazing Art Dealer Ann Nathan Has Died at 98

Ann Nathan in her gallery. Photo from Betsy Nathan.


We heard this afternoon that Ann Nathan passed away at age 98 yesterday. Daughter Betsy Nathan, of Chicago's Pagoda Red, shared the news. 

I never actually knew how old Ann ever was, but many of us were always guessing. I suppose that is how Ann, a woman who was always full of surprises and new endeavors, wanted it. 

Ann worked in the employment agency business for over 27 years, eventually running multiple agencies. When she grew tired of that work, ceramicist Ruth Duckworth encouraged her to try her skills elsewhere and move into a 200-square foot Ravenswood studio in Duckworth's pickle factory. Ann opened a gallery, Objects, around 1986. 

Though the space was tiny, she showed jewelry and ceramics – small, functional objects, Ann had to be creative with every inch of space, including pedestals that opened up and doubled as storage space.

Eventually it was time for the gallery to grow, and Ann relocated from the north side to River North, nearer to downtown. She was there until the River North fire in April 1989 forced her to close briefly. She reopened in a large ground floor space on Superior Street as Ann Nathan Gallery. 

I got to know Ann back in 2002 when I first arrived at Chicago Gallery News and our office was around the corner from her eponymous Superior Street gallery. As shared in my interview with Ann a few years ago, when I first started working for CGN, Natalie van Straaten, CGN’s founder and my boss at the time, would ask after my neighborhood visits to area art dealers, whom I had seen, and what impressions they had made on me. A telling factor as to the character of a dealer was often how they would treat the lowest person on the totem pole (me).

One of the most welcoming figures was Ann Nathan. Though she could have dismissed me as a young person who knew little about art or the area, she showed curiosity and was gracious with me. I found her to be a little bit of a mystery, but she was as intriguing and inviting as her expansive loft space on West Superior Street.

Ann closed her gallery in 2016, but she continued to stay connected to art as well as her large family. 

I had the opportunity to visit Ann at home with two of her daughters in late 2019 to interview her for the spring 2020 issue of CGN. I felt so fortunate at the time, and especially again now, to have had the chance to spend time together before the pandemic made in-person interviews impossible for awhile. 

You may read the interview here.