by Shawn Rossiter
photos by Steve Coray
On February 9, 2000, Pamela O’Mara had an epiphany.
Two years later, the walls of her new gallery in downtown Salt Lake City can barely contain the excitement she feels for what she has created. Now that her original vision has become a physical reality she smiles, takes a look around and says “Not a thing has changed.”
In UTAH ARTIST HANDS, located on 1st South between Main Street and West Temple, O’Mara has created a gallery filled with what may be the largest array of media in Utah. The gallery features traditional works such as paintings in oil, pastel and watercolor; photography and sculpture are represented as well. In addition, you’ll find paintings on barn doors, leather didjeridoos, wall sconces, totems, stonework, pottery, jewelry, textiles and more.
O’Mara’s epiphany came about because she says “I found myself promoting my friends . . . I was excited about their work and taking it all over town.” Opening a gallery and making a profession out of her enthusiastic hobby seemed a natural step for the Nevada native who has made Utah her home for over thirty years. As she tells it, she has a “gigantic amount of mother energy” and wants to nurture and expose the art and artists that excite her.
The art in Utah Artists Hands is the result of a long search. For years O’Mara frequented arts festivals and other exhibitions, getting to know artists and collecting business cards. But when she began developing her gallery one artist friend told O’Mara “You’ll have to go outside of Utah to find enough artists to fill the space.” O’Mara thought differently.
All the work in O’Mara’s gallery is by Utah artists. She has searched the breadth of the state, and brought together a wide variety of artists, including ones little seen along the Wasatch front. Southwest and Native American works that you would normally find in Moab are now in the heart of Salt Lake City. The gallery also presents a number of Utah Latino artists, who O’Mara feels have received insufficient attention in the galleries around town.
O’Mara’s search brought her all over the state, including the tiny town of Bluff, in the southeast corner of the state. When O’Mara was beginning the gallery, someone suggested she should look at the Artists of Utah website. On the site she noticed the work of Margaret LaBounty and became instantly enthralled. After speaking with LaBounty on the phone, O’Mara headed down to Bluff where LaBounty has a studio. O’Mara’s car was soon filled up with the unique three-dimensional work of a Utah artist who is far better known in Arizona and New Mexico than in her own state.
The only element of O’Mara’s vision which has changed is the location of her gallery. Originally, she had planned to open her gallery in the Gateway project. At the time, Gateway was still in its conceptual phase, promising a venue for unique independent shops. When the project gave way to becoming merely another trendy mall area with national chain stores, O’Mara decided it was not for her. Consequently, she began what she calls her “market research.” She walked the streets. She observed where people looked, where they walked, what they noticed.
This informal approach led her to the conclusion that the place that suited her best was the Main Street to West Temple block of 1st South in Salt Lake City. When she told her friends the spot she had chosen “everybody said I was out of my mind.” The space had been empty for years, was run down, and few thought she would even be able to get a building permit.
But a permit she did get — on the 18th of December 2001. The next day she quit her job and signed the lease on the property. Six weeks and a herculean effort later, the gallery opened its doors officially on February 1st. Just under two years since the original epiphany.
The gallery opening was very well attended, with many of the artists on hand. This human aspect of the gallery is key for O’Mara. A warm, friendly and above all energetic individual herself, O’Mara wants the gallery to reflect the human side of art. Every artist has a story, she says, and she is dying to tell it. She hopes her gallery will be a place where people can get to know the artists and not simply see a tag on a wall. She envisions producing shows in which artists demonstrate their techniques and materials as well as demonstrating their work.. “I hope that what will be so different about this gallery is [visitors] will go away knowing who did the art.”
Utah Artists Hands is located at 61 West 100 South in Salt Lake City
Some of the Artists Represented: Ruby Chacon, Guilermo & Marla Colmenaro, Tony DeGeorge, Earl Denet, Kaziah Hancock, Marko Johnson, Jack Karmel, Margaret LaBounty, Larry Nielson, Cynthia Oliver, M’Lisa Paulsen, Stan Roberts, Serena Supplee, Linda Tay’nahza’, Michael Trujillo, Jean Ujifusa, Alvaro Vargas, Kim Whitesides