Election Section

Getting Going in a Gallery

By Alta Gerrey
Friday December 29, 2006

At the tender age of 64 I decided to start a new art gallery. Did I realize what I was getting into? Well ... I did know two things: there are a lot of fine artists in the Bay Area, and while I feel good it’s best not to waste feeling good. I enjoy sharing beautiful work with others. And good conversation has always been a favorite pastime; Saturday afternoons are turning into conversation hour, with a couple of regulars who enjoy chatting about art and philosophy. That’s fun, too. 

The current exhibit is by an artist I began collecting when I was just 24—Don Clausen had his gallery across from the DMV (his son Eric now has that space) and I wandered in. Don’s dog scared me, and Don would rather paint than chat, but I enjoyed wandering through the rooms to view his work. 

At Clars Auction Gallery last year, I was able to buy a classic Clausen—a view of a harbor in China at dawn. His son Eric wants it if I ever decide to sell it; he remembers his dad working on a series of such paintings, and says it’s one of his happy childhood memories. As we talked at the cafe they go to every morning, Don told his son “Those were my potboilers. I tried to do one a week to take up to Telegraph Avenue to sell.” 

He waves his finger at his son, “That’s how I supported you!” The painting I have says $90 on the back. It has pride of place over the mantel in my home office.  

His paintings don’t go for $90 anymore, as any collector knows, but I still love his work and am happy to have some from the various stages he’s explored with his oil paintings and sculptures. The current exhibit here at Alta Galleria consists of abstracts and portraits. At his reception I told him I was honored to show his work. 

He wagged his finger at me and said, “Now don’t expect any more treats!” 

Don showed up wearing his Marine Corps cap and I had unknowingly chosen an anti-war activist for the musician at that opening, but peace prevailed. The musician was Robert Temple, local singer and songwriter, and Clausen’s wife Charlotte told me later she thought he was an excellent choice. 

The hardest part of any business for me is keeping track of bureaucratic demands. When I went to pick up the business license, I had to close the Gallery and find parking, but the license was ready. As the lady handed it to me, I held out a check. The lady told me I had to go to another building to pay. I put more money in the meter and went and stood in line (not an easy task, as I have multiple sclerosis) but when I got to that counter, that lady said, “Where are your documents?”  

“What documents?” 

She told me and I replied that I had already shown them to the Permit Board.  

“I need to see them, too.” she stared at me. After a moment she asked “Do you have them?”  

“Can I do this by mail?” I asked.  

“Yes.” By the time I got out, the Gallery had been closed for over an hour, I was cranky and tired, and nothing had been accomplished. It took two months for me to find one of the documents and send a check. The other document is somewhere, probably, in one of these piles of papers. 

There’s no heater in this room; i close earlier than I had originally planned because it’s a drag sitting in a cold room when it’s dark outside. But the art is beautiful, I like the artists who have shown here—Mark P. Fisher and Mary Ann Hayden, and of course, Don Clausen, and I’ve met some lovely people.  

The neighbors are supportive, and there’s Espresso Roma is on the corner; who could ask for more? 

Alta Galleria is located at 2980 College Avenue, #4, at Ashby, next to the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley. The phone number is 421-1255 and we try to be open from 11 to 6 Tuesday through Friday and 11 to 5 on Saturday.