Contemporary art thrives at SmithKlein

By John Klein Wilson

Photos by John Klein Wilson

When Nathan Klein was a young kid, his mother, Deborah, would bring him to work with her at the art gallery she owned on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. There was a big wooden rack used to display Navajo rugs, and Klein would spend hours playing under it, pretending it was his “own secret fort. The gallery was really my daycare growing up,” he says.

smithklein-dog
Nathan and Ann Klein with their daughter, Nyah Marie (top), and dog Lola Bear Klein.

Decades later, the woven rugs have mostly made way for modern bronze sculptures and expansive canvases, but the SmithKlein Gallery is still in downtown Boulder and it’s still a family affair. Now, Nathan Klein brings his own young daughter to work with him, and he hopes that she will develop the same deep love of art that he did.

“It’s like things have come full circle,” he says. “Growing up exposed to all that art gives a unique view of the world.”

Deborah SmithKlein started the gallery in 1984, and the last 30 years have seen it go through a name change, a move and a remodel. But it’s still going strong, showcasing a diverse array of contemporary fine art. After attending college in California and spending a few years in New York, Nathan came back to join his mother in the family business, taking on the role of art director in 2004. Mother and son worked side by side for 10 years, continuing to grow the gallery into a home for both internationally renowned artists and local talents.

In early 2014, Deborah decided it was time to step back from the day-to-day management and Nathan and his wife, Ann, bought the business. Since then, the couple have been working to incorporate their own art interests and plans for the future alongside the basic elements that Deborah crafted into a Boulder institution.

Abstract acrylic paintings by Hilario Gutierrez have been a popular new addition to the gallery. The three shown above are, left to right, “When You Come This Way,” “Suddenly Quiet” and “Jewel at My Feet.” On the floor, the three little sheep are by Giuseppe Palumbo and the horses are by Linda Raynolds.
Abstract acrylic paintings by Hilario Gutierrez have been a popular new addition to the gallery. The three shown above are, left to right, “When You Come This Way,” “Suddenly Quiet” and “Jewel at My Feet.” On the floor, the three little sheep are by Giuseppe Palumbo and the horses are by Linda Raynolds.

“My mom has always had very eclectic taste,” Nathan says. “If you look around the gallery, there’s not just one style or one medium of art that we represent. We really are taken with sculpture, glass, paintings, even fine art jewelry. And I think that’s something we will carry forward.”

Bigger and Bolder

That eclectic taste is still very evident in every corner of the SmithKlein Gallery, from the vivid cityscapes rendered in oil by painter Mark Lagüe or bright, modern wildlife portraits by local painter Linda Israel, to whimsical bronze animal sculptures by Jim Budish and bold, nature-inspired jewelry by Rebecca Myers, a recent addition.

Nathan says the most noticeable change so far may be the size of the art. Both he and Ann are fans of contemporary pieces, especially big ones. They’ve tried to open up the gallery space, taking out some display cases to make room for larger, bolder artwork, but Ann says they’ve also  been careful to preserve the same inviting feel the gallery has always had. They have no plans of “being an extreme minimalist gallery,” as she puts it.

The contemporary energy seems to come more from the art itself rather than some spartan decorating scheme. Pearl Street’s rich history shines through in the gallery’s wood floors and exposed brick, while big, dynamic forms like the work of sculptor Kevin Box speak to the second-generation owners’ tastes. Box works in cast bronze and steel but takes inspiration from the delicate qualities of paper. His oversize “paper” airplanes in flight, folded origami cranes and crumpled sheaves seemingly plucked from some giant wastebasket appear at once solid and weightless.

Nathan and Ann Klein are also plainly excited to be working with abstract painter Hilario Gutierrez, whose complex, layered use of acrylic colors has earned him critical acclaim in some of the world’s largest art markets. Gutierrez and the Kleins were initially unsure how collectors in a smaller art community like Boulder would respond to his work, with its deep hues and rough textures on large canvases that fall somewhere between the blocky shapes of Mark Rothko and fading layers of house paint on weathered wood. Nathan says Gutierrez quickly became one of the fastest-selling artists in the gallery, exceeding both the painter’s and the owners’ expectations. And while Ann says they are always pleased when an artist  turns out to be lucrative for the gallery, that’s not their starting point. “Nate and I, we show the art that we love,” she says. “We don’t pick it out to sell.”

Cast bronze sculptures by Kevin Box look like paper.
Cast bronze sculptures by Kevin Box look like paper.

The Kleins are not shy about the fact that they are making the gallery their own. Deborah SmithKlein still works one day a week to, as Nathan puts it, “get away from her three dogs and be around people and art.” He says they still rely on his mom’s industry knowledge and keen eye, but more than anything, they are looking forward. The one thing that will never change, however, is the SmithKlein Gallery’s basic mission: sharing art with as many people as possible.

“One of the things that we’ve tried to do here, that my mom always did, was to really make the gallery a welcoming place,” Nathan says. “That meant whether you’re going to purchase art or not, we want people to feel welcome. We want people to feel like they can admire the art, appreciate the art.”

SmithKlein Gallery
(303-444-7200; www.smithklein.com)
1116 Pearl Street, on Pearl Street Mall Boulder.
It is open Mon 10a.m.-5p.m., Tues-Thurs 10a.m.-6p.m.,
Fri-Sat 10a.m.-5p.m. and Sun noon-5p.m.