Q&A with Beth Blankenship: Meet Beth Blankenship, Founder and Owner of West Bay Fine Art, Missouri, TX
Casgar, Susanne, Art Business News
Q. Tell us about your history in publishing.
I have more than 13 years experience in the publishing industry. I started as a sales representative with Somerset House Publishing in 1992, and was promoted to a regional sales manager position shortly thereafter. I left Somerset House in 1995, accepting a position as vice president of sales with Gregory Editions Fine Art. I held this position for more than 10 years, and eventually served as vice president of sales/marketing for Gregory Editions/Washington Green USA.
I've had the opportunity to represent and work closely with a number of very talented artists including G. Harvey, JD Challenger, Dan McCaw, Govinder and many others. I am now an admirer and collector of many of the artists I've had the honor to work with, and have an extensive collection of their works, including some very sought-after editions in print, sculpture and originals.
I find myself intrigued by the art business in general. The product, so subjective by nature, makes for challenges not found in other industries. There are no comparisons to be made between artists and images. Each stands alone, thereby creating sales and marketing challenges that are unique to our marketplace.
Q What criteria do you use when choosing artists?
The most important factor, of course, is talent. Other considerations include access to originals, a universally appealing style and subject matter, and the artist's ability to address changing market trends.
We have several artists with skills in multiple genres, enabling us to broaden our line, while also encouraging the artist's growth. But, ultimately, we choose our artists based upon our sense of their viability in the marketplace.
We have been extremely fortunate in this most important area. We have developed relationships with our artists that transcend the normal business relationship, and consider them to be a part of our extended family.
Q. There have been so many changes for galleries in the past few years. Which changes do you think have been the most significant?
First and foremost, the advancements in Web-based technologies have had a substantial impact, both positive and negative on traditional brick and mortar galleries. The Internet has created a more global marketplace for art aficionados, and it's responsible for promoting a more competitive and often cutthroat environment. The market has truly become a shopper's paradise. Price comparison has become the norm rather than the exception.
Next, we seem to have sacrificed the perception of "collectibles" through very large edition sizes, turning many collectors away from the limited edition marketplace. I have always been of the opinion that a healthy secondary market for desirable prints, that do in fact appreciate, is a sign of a healthy market. I'm very pleased to see a number of publishers moving back to smaller limited editions.
On a more positive note, advancements in printing technology have allowed for reproductions much truer to the original than ever before.
Q. How do expect your business to change in the next five years?
That's an interesting question, and one for which I don't necessarily have the answer. The desire to address many of the problems facing traditional galleries today was the primary impetus for forming my own company. My main objective is to have the freedom to be responsive to market needs and demands. This will ensure the customer satisfaction necessary for the survival and growth of West Bay Fine Art in a complex and competitive marketplace. I'm sure that the West Bay of today when compared to the West Bay five years from now will be a substantially different company.
Q. What do you do to relax?
I'm an outdoors type of person. If given a choice, I would probably make a serious attempt to place my office on the patio. I enjoy most "fresh air" activities and would rather be a participant than a spectator. Golf and fishing are probably my favorites. I'm also an avid reader, and spend a significant portion of my free time reading both fiction and non-fiction works. The ultimate relaxation and decadence for me, however, is to sneak in a good nap on the weekend. This can really recharge your batteries.
Q. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I'm fortunate to have traveled extensively, and have been to some amazing and beautiful places. I'm determined, however, to return to Colorado. It's a beautiful state, and where the majority of my family currently lives. As my sense of direction is somewhat poor, it also helps to have the mountains as a guide, lust keep the Rockies on your left shoulder and you're facing north--what a simple tool.
Q. How would you best describe yourself?
In a word, passionate. I truly love what I do, and do what I love. The ability to infect others with a real appreciation for fine art is my reward.
Q. How would you best friend describe you?
Tenacious, which is a nice way of saying that I'm strong-minded or stubborn. My husband and partner likens me to a pit bull. He also states, however, that this can be an admirable trait. Once I get my teeth into a project I just don't let go until the task is complete.
Q. What was the last movie that you saw? Did you like it?
I can't even say. It was some time ago and apparently it wasn't very memorable. I prefer reading as it allows me to build the action in my imagination. Does this mean that I'm creative?
Q. What was the most recent book that you read?
I keep The E Myth and Good to Great on my nightstand and refer to them often to keep myself in check and on track. Beyond that, my husband and I are both avid readers and almost always have a book going. A good novel is a great escape, isn't it? I just finished Muse by Cecilione.
Q. How did your early career in banking influence you in setting up West Bay Fine Arts?
My banking career hasn't had nearly the influence that my later life experiences have had. I learned one very important lesson in banking, however, and that is not to judge a book by its cover.
My experiences in the security electronics field probably were more influential. I distributed security products throughout North and South America for an Israeli manufacturer, and was a partner in the startup of the company. This business taught me the importance of thinking outside the "standard and accepted" box. Creativity becomes second nature when exercised on a frequent basis.
Q. What do you consider to be your favorite vacation?
Back when I was young and immortal I took a girlfriend on a tour through Italy and France. We flew into Rome then headed north spending time in Florence, Monte Carlo, Nice, Provence and finally ending in Paris. It was great trip, with no schedule or agenda, traveling when and where the wind blew. We spent over two weeks driving through some of the most spectacular and scenic countryside that I have ever experienced.
Thinking back, renting a car in a foreign land and taking a 1,000-mile trip is not something I would do today, though it is rather indicative of my personality. You might find my picture next to chutzpah in the dictionary! LOL. I must lack either fear or common sense, I'm not sure which. But, it was an amazing experience.
Q. If you could choose anyone to have dinner with, living or dead, who would it be?
Einstein. I'm so poor at math that just being in his presence would probably be beneficial. Surely something would rub off.
Q. Do you have an absolute favorite cuisine?
Anything Italian. I love to eat it, prepare it, share it, and so on. It's also my specialty when cooking.
Q. Professionally speaking, what keeps you up at night?
What doesn't? It all does. I think about the state of the industry; our responsibility to our artists; and our responsibility to our dealers. I take my chosen vocation very seriously--perhaps too seriously.
Q. Who, or what, has been your biggest inspiration?
That would be my husband, my partner in business and my best friend, all rolled into one. He's funny, bright and amazingly talented. He's truly been the "wind beneath my wings."
Q. What makes West Bay Fine Art different?
First, I'm somewhat of a purist regarding publisher/gallery relationships. I'm seeing more publishers selling both wholesale and retail direct, thereby becoming a competitor to the gallery it's pursuing as a customer. This is not a practice I'm comfortable with, and West Bay will not participate in or condone such activities.
Second, our small size positions us to be very effective from a management standpoint. We manage by consensus rather than committee. This allows us the freedom to react to changing conditions rapidly.
Third, our size is also conducive to building relationships, both with dealers and our extended artist family. Not a day goes by without direct contact with at least one of our artists. I feel that this communication makes us very effective and responsive.
I believe our dedication to traditional galleries answers some of the dilemmas facing these galleries. Our business philosophy is structured to create synergistic business relationships.
Q. Are you happy doing what you're doing?
Yes, I'm simply ecstatic!
Q. Why did you choose the name "West Bay Fine Art" for your company?
My husband and I built a second home on Galveston's West Bay in 2001 with a long-range plan of establishing the business and living in Galveston full-time. From our boathouse to the West Bay of Galveston was a five-minute boat ride. Plus the name just sounds Artsy, don't you think?
ABN Editorial Director
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Publication information: Article title: Q&A with Beth Blankenship: Meet Beth Blankenship, Founder and Owner of West Bay Fine Art, Missouri, TX. Contributors: Casgar, Susanne - Author. Magazine title: Art Business News. Volume: 33. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2006. Page number: 38+. © 2009 Summit Business Media. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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