The moment you enter the Kearns Building on Main Street, you know you’re in a unique and historic building. As you quietly ascend the marble staircase, you hope you will find something special when you reach the top. What you find is a long hallway, and at the end, a door that reads “Leigh North Gallery.”
Modeled after the eastern galleries commonly found upstairs in old town houses or office buildings, this small gallery has been in operation since December 16th, 2005.
Gallery director Karen North chose the Kearns Building (built in 1911) as her gallery’s home because of its historic quality. Leigh-North Gallery carries exclusively historic art dating from 1850-1950, and unlike Williams Fine Art or David Ericson Fine Art, Utah artists are not a priority to this gallery. Instead, Karen hopes to bring something new to the area and expand the outlook on art to include artwork by artists across America. Historic artwork can be expensive, but Karen recognizes this and so she is not opposed to carrying lesser-known (more affordable) artists, as long as there is merit and integrity to the piece.
“As an historic dealer, you really need the background and knowledge of the artists in order to price artwork properly,” explains Karen. Her background not only includes a bachelor’s degree in both art history and studio art, she also did graduate work at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York City. Karen later interned at the Art Loss Register, specializing in the location of lost and stolen artwork. There she really learned about the history of the artists, how auctions work and how to price work.
Although Karen is the president and director of Leigh-North Gallery, her parents have a strong presence as financial backers. Her father, Scott North, is the assistant gallery director, and knows almost as much about the art as Karen. Her mother, Tamara, works as the gallery administrator. “Leigh” is Tamara’s maiden name, as well as Karen’s middle name, so both the Leigh and North families share the name of this establishment.
Karen believes that collectors should be able to trust their dealer to tell them not only the history of the artist behind a painting, but also the history of the painting itself, including its flaws. She is sensitive to the collectors needs, helping them decide whether a particular painting is a good purchase for them or whether they should wait for a different piece to come along that would better suit their interests.
Leigh North Gallery sees American art as little pieces of visual history, and they have articulated a beautiful philosophy when it comes to collecting: become the proud guardian of an exceptional work of American art. “It’s an opportunity for people to take care of something that belongs to all of America” adds Karen, “and you can pass it on to your children or grandchildren.”
Laura Durham works for KUED Channel-7 in the Creative Services Department, curating community engagement projects for both PBS and KUED productions that foster trust and value to the communities in Utah. She also produces Contact with Mary Dickson and Contact in the Community — a digital series featuring arts and culture groups in Utah. Prior to her work at KUED, Laura spent 15 years at the Utah Division of Arts & Museums in the visual arts program and later managing communications, branding, marketing, and public value projects for all arts and museums programming. She has served the Utah community in various capacities with her role as Vice President of the Salt Lake Gallery Association and Program Director for the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. She lives in Salt Lake City, sings with Utah Chamber Artists, and loves to contribute to 15 Bytes as often as time allows.