By Austin McLellan
Austin McLellan: How did you get interested in art?
Laurie Brown: Actually, my Dad was interested in photography, so I learned that from him when I was young and continue to enjoy photography to this day. And my mother was very crafty. So creativity, in many different forms, has always been a part of my life.
Sounds like great influences. And later?
Although both my parents and my late husband all did stained glass, it wasn’t something I was ever particularly interested in. However, in his later years, my husband was looking for a faster process and discovered glass fusing. We took the Beginner’s Glass Lover’s Weekend at the Washington Glass School in Mt. Rainier, Maryland together in 2006 and were hooked. The techniques we learned there really resonated with both of us. We slowly converted our basement into a studio, with two kilns, coldworking equipment, and a lot of glass. I’ve exhibited my work in the Washington area and was a TA (teaching assistant) at the Penland School of Craft with Paul Messink in 2017.
But you’ve also pursued other career areas?
Yes, I had a 22-year career in business and IT, but I left that in 2014 to focus on my glass art full time. As I became more involved with the arts community in DC, I found that a lot of artists and studios needed help with accounting, office management, and business tasks. I was able to help them out and, in turn, gained access to a lot of great resources as I was developing my own art.
Sounds like good experience to run a gallery.
Yes. When Linda Ross, the previous owner of L Ross Gallery, decided to retire, my experience and diverse background was a good fit.
Let’s talk a little about the L Ross Gallery today.
Linda wanted to make sure her gallery artists would continue to have a good home for their work and careers. Of course I supported that wholeheartedly. As a new resident to Memphis, starting a gallery from scratch would have been quite a challenge. However, being able to continue the solid legacy she had established seemed very doable.
And going forward? Can you describe the kind of work you might show? 2D? 3D? Sculpture, glass, or photography?
All of the above. Linda definitely had an affinity for 2D abstract. And the gallery will certainly keep some continuity there. But with my varied art background, we are also going to explore other areas, try new things.
Can you give an example?
Sure. When people think of ceramics or glass, they tend to think of plates and bowls, or decorative items. But there’s a lot going on beyond that. I know artists who are doing very innovative, narrative work. In fact, the current show includes three artists working in ceramics or glass: Laurel Lukaszewski, Erwin Timmers, and Nancy Weisser. I knew them in Washington DC and asked them to show at L Ross. I think their work is terrific and hope that it resonates here.
You’ve also made some changes to the physical gallery, right?
Yes. We did some renovations, moved a few walls, and opened the space up. It’s larger and more welcoming. We kept a focal wall in the main gallery for our monthly shows. We’ve also established a mini-gallery in one corner to show art on a slightly different schedule. Here we can hang work that is physically smaller or it can used for emerging local or new-to-Memphis artists. Or at least that’s our idea for it. It’s a work in progress.
Great. Any other changes?
Another new thing is our large digital display unit. With this we can show more of our artists’ work: work in our bins, work in their studios, work in other galleries, or even work currently in a museum show. We can show an entire portfolio, which is great since every gallery has limited wall space.
Outside the physical gallery, are you doing any other outreach or marketing? For example, online, or at art fairs?
Not quite yet, but we will look at that. I have contacts in DC with experience in these areas, both from an exhibiting and a marketing standpoint, so the resources are there when I’m ready.
Are there opportunities for emerging artists at L Ross?
Participating in a group show or showing in the mini-gallery might be first opportunities. From my glass background, I tend to appreciate work that is well-crafted as well as artistically interesting and visually compelling. Soon we’ll be posting guidelines for submitting work on our website, which is currently being redesigned.
Is cultivating new collectors part of your mission?
Absolutely, but not in a pushy way of course. Sometimes convincing a new collector to acquire that first piece of original art is the key…helping them to understand why it matters, how the work is a unique object. Of course we’ll continue to serve our existing collector base at the same time. We want to strike a good balance.
I assume you’re optimistic about succeeding here in the Mid-South.
Sure, but it’s funny…when I was doing my market research, before moving to Memphis, some people said that only local artists could succeed here…that Memphians support Memphians! Then other folks said the opposite…that Memphians just love good art, regardless of where the artist is from. (Laughs) So, we’ll see.
So it feels like maybe you’ve left the runway, gaining altitude?
Yes. Our renovations are completed. Our grand reopening show, back on February 8, was very successful. And we hope to continue that with the Michael Barringer show in April.
And final thoughts?
It’s wonderful how welcoming everyone has been! It’s been an easy transition. We’re getting good feedback about changes we’ve made—to the space and the art being shown—and everyone seems really excited about the gallery continuing and growing.
Laurie Brown is the new owner of L Ross Gallery. She has relocated from Falls Church, Virginia. Austin McLellan lives and writers in Memphis. He recently published his first novel Twenty Grand Love Story (Harvard Square). He has published fiction at Akashicbooks.com, Bangalore Review, Stepaway Magazine, Monarch Review, and Broadway World.com. He has also operated an art gallery on South Main in Memphis. In a previous life, Austin taught English at universities in Asia, Europe, and the United States. More about Austin and his work appears at www.austinmclellan.com.