Embracing A Lifetime Passion, Susan Powell Fine Art
by RONA MANN/ photos by J. Lilly
She’s a writer’s dream. Each time she opens her mouth, she unknowingly and unwittingly utters a memorable quote. Something you want to lead with. Something you can run with. Something that’s real.
Maybe that’s because Susan Powell herself is real. Very real. She is all at once self-assured, yet unassuming. She’s your next door neighbor. The friend with whom you feel you can be yourself. No fancy airs. No pret
ension. It’s just that this lady happens to be an expert authority on 19th and 20th century American art, and both she and her gallery are indeed the real deal.
“I’m not an artist,” she begins almost apologetically. “I’m an appreciator.” Understatement! For over 30 years this woman has spent her life lapping up the arts, never getting enough, always seeking more, and constantly looking for what’s real and beautiful so that she might give it a home and thereby share it with others.
Unlike the backstories that define and shape others, Susan Powell did not fall into art. She was born into it, grew up surrounded by it, and really never knew anything else. Powell’s father painted, exhibiting his work in both New York City and Maine, yet it was an avocation and not his living. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area Susan was frequently taken to museums like the National Gallery where, “the guards were my first babysitters.” Powell studied at a Capitol District high school that offered classes in art history and appreciation which eventually led to an Art History major at Connecticut College, where she spent a semester in France, studying art in Paris and becoming thoroughly fluent in the language.
While most people find it so difficult to break into this field, Susan Powell’s early experience, coupled with her innate sense of pluck and good old fashioned “chutzpah,” landed her a job at The Smithsonian just days after graduating with a degree in both business and art history. “I was told there were no jobs around, but I knew I had a good education and was interested in both business and art, so I could be an asset to them.” With 95,000 people attending lectures and symposiums at The Smithsonian yearly, Powell found a home as head of that department before moving on to the famed Doyle Galleries in Manhattan. Founded in 1962 Doyle New York is one of the world’s foremost auctioneers and appraisers of fine art and the place that Powell set her sights on for her next place of employment. The people at Doyle were a bit reluctant at first, no doubt a bit overwhelmed by this young woman who told them resolutely that she was going to work there. So Susan offered to work the first weekend for free and show them what she had. At the end of the successful weekend she asked for a job from William Doyle, Chairman of the Board, who must have been both struck and yet impressed by this self-assured young woman barely in her twenties. “I told him I wanted to be head of the painting department, and that I would double his sales in a year.”
She got the job, but Powell didn’t do it. She didn’t double sales. Instead, in the four and a half years she was at Doyle, she increased the figure from the previous $125,000 to 1.2 million in sales. And she was still only in her twenties when she left!
Ask Susan Doyle how she learned so quickly; and she’ll reply, “I learned to discern between what is real and what is fake. The more you see, the more you know. Plus I had a mentor who was a dealer and taught me a great deal. And then there’s experie
It was her experience dealing with a banker who had a home in Madison that brought Powell to the shoreline. “Once I took a look around Madison, I fell in love with the town.” So in 2003 she opened Susan Powell Fine Art right in the heart of downtown Madison, immediately attracting attention both from artists of note and the residents and art lovers of her new community. Twelve years later Powell is still always looking for new painters to help grow her gallery. “Art transforms you. It’s all about the experience of finding something new and wonderful.”
Susan Powell Fine Art is constantly bringing in both the new and captivating, as the gallery has shows that change every four to six weeks. Each is heralded by an opening reception in the intimate, well appointed garden behind the gallery that Powell herself loving attends with the help of a neighbor. Here, both the experienced lovers of art and the uninitiated, but curious, enjoy drinks and small bites before and after enjoying the show inside. Currently Susan proudly invites all to her annual “Summer Along the Shore” exhibition running through August 31st and representing 11 of the area’s best artists.
Upcoming, Susan is excited about her participation in the Boston International Fine Art Show taking place October 22-25 at the Cyclorama, a part of the Boston Center for the Arts. Conveniently located at 539 Tremont Street across from the Boston Common, it is a premiere event in New England that features both traditional and contemporary galleries from all over the United States. Participation is by invitation; and although she has been invited several times in the past, this is the first year that the show fits her busy schedule. “It is both a thrill and a privilege to be invited,” Powell says proudly.
Susan Powell Fine Art is a welcoming gallery. Overhead track lighting accentuates the paintings, enhancing the viewing experience, making the colors fairly pop. Both the casual observer “just looking,” as well as the educated collector, can find a home here because it’s comfortable. “This is a great resource,” Susan says with pride. “I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated.”
Powell especially loves children and the process of engaging them in the world of art at an early age.”I had a woman come into the gallery not long ago who said she was coming back with her children because she wanted to educate them about art,” Susan says. “And she did come back…four times! Once with each child individually. She spent a long time showing each of them around the gallery…teaching, explaining, and answering questions.” So did the woman eventually buy anything? “No,” replied Powell, “but she started educating her children about art, and that meant everything to me. It’s what I do, why I’m here. It’s really all about embracing art. So…come and look!”
Susan Powell Fine Art is at 679 Boston Post Road, Madison. (203) 318-0616
Visit them at: www. susanpowellfineart.com So…come and look!