Taos County, New Mexico
Richard Alan Nichols

Gallery owner brushes up his painting skills to produce Tradiciones' covers
By Scott Sloan, For The Taos News

In the well-spaced, well-appointed Nichols' Taos Fine Art Gallery, the works of artists are arranged carefully so that many can be displayed at once without a feeling of clutter. Each painting or photograph or sculpture is given room to draw the eye of the viewer.

Sitting with gallery owner Richard Alan "Rich" Nichols at a table in the middle of the gallery, the works of Julian Robles, Don Ward, Dee Wescott and Louis Tedesco show the range of artistic styles and tastes and the careful attention to placing each individual work.

"It's hard enough to sell a painting, so you want to present [the work] in the best possible light. Here, we can show pieces off the way they should be shown," Rich said.

Whether he is talking to a visitor, or dealing with an important client or conferring with his gallery director, Larry Eagan, Rich brings an energy and enthusiasm to his job that is infectious.

Those traits were present from his days as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, then as a freelance commercial artist. For a few years, Rich plugged his energy into a high-stress, rigid atmosphere, where clients were never quite satisfied and artistic fulfillment was, by necessity, put on hold. Even now, talking about those chaotic days makes him wince.

"A rough racket isn't the word for it," he said.

After such a difficult experience, Rich decided to pursue his first love as an artist. His work is steeped in the tradition of American Impressionism. At school, he studied under the master painter, Irving Shapiro, who introduced Rich to the works of Nicolai Fechin, the Russian born artist who settled in Taos earlier this century. Rich's first trip from Chicago to Taos was a revelation.

"I came here to visit and I felt like I was home," is how he describes that visit.

Looking at the terrain with an artist's eye, Rich saw firsthand how the natural lighting and the mountainous terrain fit with his own style. Finally in 1994, he packed up with his family and moved to Taos for good.

He admits that the transition with his artwork was initially a struggle. After having painted in Chicago and the Midwest for so long, with its flat landscapes, geometric urban shapes and a darker sky, the New Mexico landscape of his dreams presented him with a real challenge to adapt.

"I had to change my whole palette. But I also had to change my whole way of thinking. It's a different way of thinking here," Rich said. "But this is a place that feeds your soul. I realized in Chicago I was always pushing, but out here the culture recognizes you have to be able to control that."

When Rich discovered that the rhythms of life here were as important as the terrain, he began to succeed with his art. And that success captured the attention of The Taos News when Publisher Chris Baker was looking for an artist to paint the covers for the first-ever edition of "Tradiciones."

As his vision grew, his gallery business was growing as well. He opened his first gallery, a 500-square-foot space on Bent Street, in 1998. When the gallery began attracting other artists, it brought Rich a sense of his own niche in the Taos arts community.

"It evolved slowly there. I learned pretty quickly to have people involved who shared the same mind set," he said. At this point, he hooked up with Eagan, who still serves as his gallery director, which freed up more of Rich's time for painting. He was also coming to grips with the shortcomings of his space on Bent Street.

"It was a great place with great energy, but it wasn't getting any foot traffic."

So with customary energy, Rich began exhibiting his works and the works of other artists in restaurants in town, which brought more exposure to the works and to the gallery.

Even though growth made a new space necessary, the decision to buy the former Taos Gallery almost didn't come to pass.

"I never pursued it. I looked at it with a lot of trepidation," he said.

Rich gives all the credit for pushing him in the direction of the gallery to Eagan. It took a year of negotiations before Rich decided to take the plunge. "I walked in here and I looked at the space and I started seeing all the potential," he said.

Rich is now settled in and happy, calling the newly named Nichols' Taos Fine Art Gallery, "the best space in town," and making plans for the future. He's taking the works of his regular artists on the road to Pampa, Texas, right outside of Amarillo. Nichols sees it as upholding the tradition of the original Taos Art Colony, which would regularly show its works in other cities.

"One hundred years ago, the art colony here was carrying that tradition on," he said.

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© Karen Mitchell