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.