By Douglas McDaniel
A few years back, Surprise gallery owner Paula J. Spears was a recruiter for a company in Illinois providing contract work to aircraft mechanics.
But after 9/11, everything broke loose in the aircraft maintenance business, with a lot of people in her industry looking for jobs, but she had few jobs to give them. "There was a lot of transition," she says. "Meaning: layoffs." She came to the Valley thnking she would do something new. She lived lived her before. She knew the area and did careful research before she purchased the gallery space from a photographer, opening it last December.
Then, she went back to what she already knew: recruiting. Except, instead of recruiting guys with wrenches and screwdrivers in their tool boxes, she started networking for people with brushes, painters, that is, so that she could use her networking skills to develop what has been a successful grass roots community arts effort at Arizona Artworks & Framing (Crossroads Towne Center, 12851 W. Bell Road, #16, Surprise 85374).
"I did a lot of stuff to get this going," she says. "I started by going down to the Arizona Commission on the Arts and I started recruiting. I was on the phone all of the time. One thing led to another, and so, here we are."
From the outside of her jam-packed gallery space in the Crossroads center, which is just on the boundary of Surprise and Sun City West, it looks like just another frame shop. But go inside and you find Spears has been successful in developing a broad stable of local and regional artists. Surprise artists on display in her include Charles Felder, whose paintings capture pastoral scenes of the way the desert may have looked in that very same area a long, long time ago; Anton Nowels, who paints with a mix of daring and humor; Neil Talbert, Sun City West, and Sam Ingram, who is a local legend as a long-time painter of religious and political iconography.
One of the key areas that Spears has been having success with is using guilds to bring the work in.
"The first show I had was for the Arizona Pastel Artists Association, and I offered my place for their spring show," she says. "They had approached and I said, 'Oh, i will do it,' but I had no idea what I was getting into."
But encouraged by that experience, she kept bringing in the guilds. Next came the Desert Sage artists, a group with members from paradise Valley, Phoenix and Scottsdale. In October, the Phoenix Art Guild put on a showing, followed by the Peoria Artists Guild in November. December 3-4, with the gallery stable now bursting at the seems, Spears will be participating in a major outdoors event for the area, the third annual Northwest Valley Arts & Crafts Festival at the Surprise Baseball Stadium (see sidebar).
With each show, in many cases, the work of those artists have remained in the gallery, which is chockful of works by all local artists on every wall. There is only one "generic" artist represented, prints by DeGrazia. In terms of her taste in what remains in the gallery, she says "The criteria is ... things I like. I find there are so many creative people out there."