Stephanie Walker says she ended up in the art world by chance. An Essex, Vt., native, she studied sociology in college and got her first gallery job, in the ’90s, because she happened to be savvy with computers.
“I tripped and fell in,” she says with a smile. But the 38-year-old art dealer and owner of Walker Contemporary, the seasonal gallery she opened in Waitsfield last spring, also happens to really love art.
On a recent afternoon, she sits at a huge, distressed-wood spool that serves as a table in the middle of the spare, white-walled gallery. Walker’s long, blond curls brush over her shoulders as she talks, occasionally revealing a tattoo of Gaia on one of them.
Walker encourages her clients and visitors to linger over art. The key is to look at a work “long enough to feel quiet, and then long enough to hear your own thoughts,” she says. Which might be why she seems to have such an intimate relationship with each piece she sells.
“To me they’re like children,” says Walker, who can’t stand to learn that something she’s sold has ended up shut away in a closet. Unless she’s certain they will cherish the piece, she says, “I talk people out of buying art often.”
Walker got her start selling art at the former Clarke Galleries in Stowe. But it was at Chase Gallery in Boston that she honed her craft. “We were on Newbury Street, and our primary goal was sales,” she recalls. The only reason Walker got that job, she says, was that she’d recently worked in technology. The gallery owner “had his whole inventory online, and he wanted someone who was tech savvy.”
Walker took to the business quickly, eventually opening her own gallery in Boston; from there she moved to Los Angeles, where she continued to deal privately. “I spent a lot of time kind of hustling to learn the business of art,” she says.
Last June, at the beginning of the third summer she spent in Waitsfield to be closer to family, Walker signed a six-month lease and set up shop in the Bridge Street space that was briefly home to Quench Artspace. From the partially subterranean gallery, she shows the artists from around the world whom she represents.
Walker has a fondness for intricate details and painstaking processes. This month, she’s featuring Boston-based Mary O’Malley, who creates jewel-like gold-ink drawings on velvety black paper. Each shimmering medallion is filled with exquisitely wrought images of flowers, scarabs and other insects. “They exist somewhere between the wild irrationality of nature and the rigorous orderliness of lace patterns,” writes O’Malley in her artist statement.
New York artist Valerie Hammond makes lithographic prints, often including flowers, vines and hands, on handmade paper. “I am fascinated by shrines and ex-votos — devotional votive objects that families make to show love and respect,” she writes in her artist statement.
Inspired by the cellular structures of plants, Dharma Strasser MacColl, a San Francisco artist, stitches tiny handmade porcelain dots onto painted paper. Look closely at the dots — some are more like beads — and you can make out traces of the artist’s fingerprints.
Lauren Fensterstock’s dark dioramas are filled with strips of black paper she has tightly rolled into flowers and leaves and then submerged in charcoal. In some pieces, the charcoal dust buries only the flowers’ stems. In others, the blooms barely peek out of the dust — all that painstaking detail hidden from view.
Udo Nöger, a Hawaii-based East German artist, uses light as his medium. He cuts away layered, painted canvases to create translucent compositions evocative of ice and snow.
And then there’s Kazuo Kadonaga. The Japanese artist’s glass sculptures adorn several surfaces at Walker Contemporary, each one slightly different — some are squat and dotted with air bubbles; others appear blobby and almost frosty. Visitors are often tempted to touch them, and that’s OK by Walker. It’s all about “exposing the properties of the materials,” she says, laying her hand on the cool glass surface.
“Art is about the dialogue, about what it means to be human,” Walker says. This was never clearer to her than in Boston after September 11, 2001, she notes, when her gallery was showing tiny paintings of buildings on fire during World War II.
Walker recalls thinking in the aftermath of the attacks, Oh, my God, do I have to take this down? She chose not to and says it was the right decision. “It put [the attacks] into context,” she says. Gallerygoers who may have been thinking, How could this happen? could look at the paintings and see that “it’s happened before, over and over,” says Walker.
Here in Vermont, after a closing reception for Mary O’Malley this Saturday, Walker will hang her next show, cyanotype paintings by Indianapolis artist Casey Roberts. And come the end of October, she’ll pack up and head on to the next adventure. Opening a gallery in her home state, “was kinda bringing it full circle,” she wrote in an email. “It’s time for something new.”
“Exquisite Beasts & Radiant Creatures,” mixed-media drawings by Mary O’Malley at Walker Contemporary, Waitsfield, 617-842-3332. Closing reception on Saturday, August 31, 5 to 7 p.m. Gallery open through October. facebook.com/walkercontemporary
The original print version of this article was headlined "Attention to Detail."