Despite a housing hiccup during the first years of the recent recession, Utah’s Dixie has continued to grow at a robust rate. It may not be the 50 percent growth seen in the first decade of this century (making St. George one of CNN’s 10 fastest-growing cities in the U.S.), but housing developments continue to spring up along the multihued mesas and plateaus that surround St. George. In places like Ivins and Kayenta, developers are doing brisk business in second homes for the well-to-do, who are attracted by the gorgeous scenery and warm winters. Frequently these homeowners are sold a package deal, with furniture and decor to fill their brick and mortar. Which explains why a development company like Split Rock would have its own art gallery.
Conceived in 2010, Split Rock Gallery, located in St. George’s Ancestor Square, first opened for the Parade of Homes in February 2011 inside what used to be a nightclub. “Apparently back then it got pretty rowdy in here,” says gallery director Sheri Taylor. Things have since quieted down and now the building is home to small shops and restaurants. In Split Rock’s space, wood floors replaced old carpets, and trusses were stripped down to their original wood to create an inviting space, on two floors, that looks through floor-to-ceiling glass across an atrium at another Split Rock venue, their interior design showroom.
“The partners of Split Rock Design [a division within the larger Split Rock group] have always loved art and collected art and always wanted to have a gallery,” Taylor says. At conception she was invited to bring in the initial artists and create a turnkey space. When she left to work as financial director for the Dove Center, a domestic violence recovery center in St. George, she continued to consult with the gallery. Then in September of last year, Split Rock invited her to come back in an upper management position with a portfolio that includes management of the gallery.
Taylor had a peripatetic upbringing, mostly in California, moving about every three years. During her last year of high school the family moved to Richfield, in central Utah. It was a bit of cultural shock, she says, but she began falling in love with the state. She returned to California for college (majoring in accounting) and lived in Los Angeles, Israel and Belgium (where she earned a master’s in business) before returning to Orange County. When her parents were looking around for a place in which to retire, Taylor lobbied for St. George. Successfully. After years of visiting, she ended up following them here. “I fell in love with the redrocks. It seeped into my bones.”
An avid collector herself, Taylor is enthusiastic about her job and the ability to be surrounded by things she loves in a place she loves. While the business may be owned by a group of investors, Taylor provides what every good gallery needs, a personality. And she says she takes all responsibility for the gallery. Finding the right staff has been key to the gallery’s success, she says, and they are consulted in selecting artists and artworks. Partners from the group will also suggest artists, but ultimately the decision of what and who to show is up to her.
“It’s about beauty. About what speaks to me,” she says about the art in the space. There are a lot of landscapes and plenty of western-themed art, but these mingle with figurative and abstract works. “This gallery is always in shift because if I weren’t able to bring in elements and things I love and we love as a group, I’d be bored and our clients would be bored.”
There are plenty of local artists, but she’s also brought in talent from the Wasatch Front as well as outside the state. Taylor looks for artists who have a body of work, but ones who also show an evolution, a desire to expand. “Experimentation is really important,” she says. “So it doesn’t get stagnant.”
The gallery sells a lot of work to locals, to people with second homes in the area, but they also cater to what she calls “eclectic walk-ins,” people from all over the world. “We had clients in from Ohio, Germany and Israel the past couple of days,” she says by way of example. Like her, they fall in love with the area and keep coming back.
The gallery does not maintain a monthly calendar of shows, but frequently sets up specific events, like their exhibit in May organized in conjunction with Zion National Park and celebrating the publication of Art of the National Parks. They also participate in Art on Main, a gallery walk event that happens every quarter. For these evenings the gallery provides live music and has an artist on hand doing live demonstrations.
There is a lot going on in St. George right now, Taylor says. “It feels like there are a lot of people getting more involved and it’s exciting to see all that’s happening down here.” She and Split Rock Gallery are in the thick of it. Whether you’re in the market for a second home, or are just in the area for a visit, Taylor’s sure if you stop in you’ll find something to take home.
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.