family biz

Quintana Galleries: Specializing in Native American Works of Art

How did Quintana Galleries come about? Both of my parents worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in New Mexico. They grew up in Gallup, New Mexico, at the heart of Navajo Indian Country. That established a strong relationship to Native American art. When we moved to Portland, my Mom quit her job, and opened a little store specializing in turquoise jewelry in 1972. That’s how Quintana started.

We are Hispanic – Spanish and American Indian. Our roots run deep in New Mexico. My mother’s family goes back seven generations. The move to Portland was prompted by job transfer – my Dad moved from Albuquerque to Montana to Portland, Oregon

I grew up in the business. I took over the day-to-day business of the gallery in 2004. My Mom is now fully retired, and my Dad comes in three days a week to help with the books.

What is the primary mission of the gallery? Our mission is to showcase indigenous art of the Americas, primarily Native American art, created by fine artists or self-taught object makers. Our pieces are of highest quality, traditional, and made by native people.

What led you to the decision to become more involved in the family business? It was a big decision, because this involves an incredible amount of work. I’ve always loved the business, and I’ve had the chance to try other things. Working in the arts – especially indigenous arts – it’s in my blood.

I worked in the family business for years before moving to Los Angeles in 1999, where I worked in public relations. Throughout my career I’ve worked in promoting design, the arts or architecture.

What was the art environment in Portland like when the gallery first opened? There wasn’t much. Portland’s art scene was still only emerging. In the 1970s when we first opened the gallery along Second and Davis, there were perfume shops, a creperie, leather workers, flower shops: it was very Bohemian.

The major gallery in town was the Fountain Gallery, owned by Arlene Schnitzer. She was one of the pioneers who brought contemporary fine art to Portland. Folk Craft Gallery and Image Gallery were bringing indigenous art from Mexico, South America and the Arctic.

Quintana Galleries started out as a “trading post.” People loved it. There was a craze about turquoise jewelry and my Mom was an ambassador for that style. We had a great following right from the get-go.

When you first took on the business, what were some of the things that you did differently? Quintana Galleries has gone through such an evolution, from being a Mom and Pop trading post to becoming a fine art gallery. When I came back in 2004, it had become a pristine, “high-brow” gallery of Northwest coastal art. We carried beautiful objects, but had gone away from what we started with. I wanted to bring the gallery back to our roots, because I feel that we have lost much of the warmth and flavor of being a family-owned gallery. People really missed the family atmosphere and I wanted to bring it back.

It’s been pretty exciting. Last year, we celebrated our 35 th anniversary and we held an appreciation party celebrating our legacy. The Portland Art Museum donated space for us to host events to celebrate. It was great to connect with people who have known us from when we first opened. From new clients to people we hadn’t seen for years, we have come full circle. It’s good to know that after all these years; we still have a strong, loyal following of people who love what we do.

To what do you attribute your clients’ loyalty to Quintana Galleries? I give my parents so much credit for their ethics, their personalities, and of course, their great taste in art. It was a place where anyone can come and not feel intimidated.

How does Quintana Galleries set itself apart from other indigenous art shops? One of the main things is that we are from the culture that we represent. We come from an indigenous heritage, and that’s why we have such great working relationships with our artists.

As part of the new generation coming into the business, it’s really important to me to foster the growth of young artists and promote their work. We’re adding the work of many emerging artists to the gallery. We deal in a huge range of works: from antiquities, to Northwest and Arctic arts, to Southwest works.

What do you consider as the most challenging aspect of your job? It’s challenging to be a small business owner. I wear so many different hats: being a curator, making sure employees are taken care of, and managing the day-to-day operations of the gallery. I’m lucky because I have family that I can turn to for advice and support.

How has the business landscape for local art galleries changed over the years? Our neighborhood has changed a lot, the Pearl district has become an epicenter for art in Portland. We’re right in the heart of it, so that has been really exciting.

Why is it important for a gallery like Quintana to be part of the Portland art scene? Locally, there are only two spaces that showcase Native American art. We carry works made by indigenous people. It’s really important to have diversity in the kinds of art showcased in Portland.

What do you enjoy most about promoting artists and their works? I meet and work with so many talented people. When I meet an artist who is doing great and unique art, I want to support their passion and promote their works. I consider myself lucky, because I promote people and works that I really believe in.

Summer 2008 Colors of Influence || Share on Facebook

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