A more dramatic change of scene and focus would
be hard to imagine than my switch from building wooden racing
shells in Northern Vermont to working in the American Painting
Department at Christie's in New York City back in 1981. In
fact, it may not be as strange as it sounds, as I had grown
up around my father Paul Cooley's business and own collection. Through
some form of osmosis I began to appreciate the beauty and value
of fine art and antiques, even as a kid, though it was the
great outdoors that always beckoned me. It was through
the process of selling a handful of my father's old master
paintings that I was introduced to both the art world and the
art market in New York. I was hooked. I visited museums
and galleries, finally discovering the American Luminists at
the landmark exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington,
D.C. Between the awesome beauty of the 19th century depictions
of the American wilderness and the excitement of seeing the
market place at work, I immediately dreamed of having my own
gallery to create exhibitions and develop relationships with
new and established collectors. My two years helping
the Christie's American Painting Department grow offered a
remarkable education and a lot of interesting times.
As electric and engaging as the auction world
was, it didn't have the sense of permanence and passion that
the prominent art galleries in the city conveyed. I have
worked hard to establish a high level of connoisseurship, combining
it with a friendly, inclusive atmosphere in my gallery here
in Old Lyme, Connecticut. While there are disadvantages
to being out of the mainstream, visitors to the gallery consistently
remark at the surprising quality of the art and the remarkable
space in which we exhibit it all.
While a primary interest of mine is the mid-19th
century painters of the Hudson River School, we are inevitably
linked as well to the painters of the Old Lyme Art Colony.
Our proximity to the Florence Griswold Museum, one of our nations
true gems of the museum world, has helped to promote the awareness
and interest in the region's artists.
Upon moving to Old Lyme from Simsbury in 1986
we were excited to discover the breadth and quality of many
of the Connecticut Impressionists. I'll not forget one
day when a gentleman came in with an old wooden crate filled
with stacks of wood panels. Twenty of the forty or so
panels were delightful sketches by Allen B. Talcott (the other
twenty were, sadly, blank). The artist's work is somewhat
rare as he died prematurely and much of his work was lost in
the floods of 1938 and 1955. But here was a collection
of brilliant works around which we were thrilled to build an
important little exhibition.
During the first four years of business we were
in Simsbury and working by appointment only. As such,
we were seriously limited in the extent of our exhibition schedule. The
fact that I was also coaching the Trinity College Crew team
and starting a family helped control the gallery ambitions.
Our move to a public space in Old Lyme, however,
opened up myriad opportunities to present significant shows. We
were also able to integrate contemporary representational art
into our program.
From our extensive art and antiques show circuit,
as well as our own exhibition schedule, to the various publications
we produce, our mission has remained constant: to bring the
very best quality art, regardless of the renown of the artist,
to as many people in as fun and as welcoming a way as possible.
Jeffrey W. Cooley