Reuben Saunders Gallery: 40th Anniversary
May 22, 2018 is a major milestone for gallerist, Reuben Saunders: his Gallery’s 40th Anniversary. Over the course of two Final Friday exhibitions (May 25th and June 29th), Reuben will be celebrating this remarkable achievement by honoring the many artists who’ve helped make the Gallery what it is today. As an assistant at Reuben Saunders Gallery, this has generated a lot of talk over the past few months and, curious, I began asking questions about the history behind his success.
Reuben Saunders has always had a glowing appreciation for art. As a child growing up in North Carolina, he frequently attended local and national museums with his parents. In his teens, he began collecting American craft pottery on trips to historic Seagrove, NC; straight from the kiln. Then, in 1970, a three-month backpacking expedition through Europe inspired an entirely new perspective on art; a life-changing experience of world-class museums, galleries, and sculpture. Wonders like Frogner Park in Norway, Millesgården in Sweden; The Louvre.
Reuben moved to Wichita in 1975, bringing that sublime impression with him. He didn’t have the talent for making art himself, but a mind for business that he knew could help share the love for art and support those making it. There was a real need here: no commercial galleries represented and promoted contemporary Kansas artists. So, on May 22nd, 1978, with the help of printmaker Jane Eby, he opened an in-house gallery at his frame shop. Young and ambitious, from here he was all in.
Reuben’s grand opening was at 2906 E Central: Artworks. The excitement was palpable. Art openings were held every four weeks and attracted great crowds. The overwhelmingly positive response bolstered his framing business and enabled him to book large invitational shows at Century II concert hall. Ron Christ became the first artist represented by the Gallery.
This was at the very beginning of a movement in Wichita. Soon after, other Galleries and groups started to form: Ballpark, The Project, The Famous Dead Artists, Fisch Haus. Institutions like The Wichita Art Museum, The Ulrich, and the Wichita Art Association (now Mark Arts) prospered. This collective boom continues to make waves today.
In about 1982, Artworks became Reuben Saunders Gallery, which now occupies a large, gorgeous space in the Douglas Design District (recently voted Best Art Gallery by the readers of Wichita Magazine), exposing a bevy of new collectors and enthusiasts to the local and regional artists he represents; the reward of 40 years of faithful service to the community.
Reuben attributes his success in part with creative reinvention, flexibility, and keeping up with the times. The economy is a big difficulty in sustaining a small business, especially as interest in art ebbs and flows, but Reuben has weathered the storm. Through hard work, a frugal practice, and loyal customers, struggles were overcome. Reuben never considered doing anything else.
Reuben knows that art collectors vary and a successful Gallery must be well-rounded to accommodate the needs of its clientele. Along with the local and regional artists he represents, Reuben generously consigns works from private estates ranging from the highly-collectible Birger Sandzén and the Prairie Print Makers, the Associated American Artists, and more.
Today, Reuben is 69 years old and as active as ever. He’s represented, exhibited, and supported hundreds of local, regional, and national artists over his 40 years in business. Reuben is endlessly grateful for a generous community of patrons and customers (some still with him from the very beginning); his successes only possible through their enduring support.
Reflecting on the past 40 years, he is overwhelmed and honored by how many people have trusted him to do right by their work. In his time as a gallerist, he has come to know the incredible breadth and talent of artists in the area. He feels blessed to come into work every day, surrounded by exquisite works of art in a beautiful space, spreading joy and financial ease for artists; the past 40 years of his life.