“My Own Proclivity” | 12 x 16 oil | Glenn Ness
A Fated Fête:
Inside Peterson Contemporary Art’s New Gallery Space
by Cassidy Mantor
Jim Peterson was walking to work at his established gallery, Mockingbird Gallery, and something compelled him to take a different route that day. As he rounded the corner from Franklin and walked up Bond, he saw a “For Lease” sign in the window of a large retail space in the Franklin Crossing Building. Its modern façade caught his eye and he thought it could be a great home for his other gallery, Peterson Contemporary Art. As Jim peered into the windows beyond the glare, the potential of the space spoke to him. He told his wife and business partner, Nathalie Peterson, about the “big, beautiful, and impressive” contemporary gallery he envisioned there. At first, she thought he was crazy.
The art Peterson wanted to show there was currently on display underground in an 800-square-foot outpost known as Peterson Contemporary Art (PCA). He and Nathalie founded PCA in 2016 in response to living in Bend for many years and noticing a void where contemporary art should be represented in town. They observed a change in architecture and a shift toward a more modern aesthetic with the growth of custom homes in communities like Tetherow. Mockingbird Gallery – the authority for traditional and representational fine art in Bend – was still the Petersons’ primary venue, but it had admittedly become crowded as they got to know a new cadre of artists and buyers and brought in more of their work. A humble patron of the arts himself, Peterson wanted to give his contemporary artists their own space and more formally acknowledge an artistic movement that tourism and the local market was supporting.
“We were bringing in modern and contemporary art and mixing it into what we offered at Mockingbird, and people were receiving it well,” explains Peterson. “We wanted to officially give those artists the respect and focus their work deserves. Our community is thriving and growing in a beautiful way. People are building gorgeous homes and tourism is stronger than ever.”
To turn the new 2,800-square-foot space into a world-class contemporary art gallery, Peterson sat with contractors and worked on an ideal floorplan that would enhance his artists’ work. They drew out pony walls, decided where the tracks would go, and diagrammed plans for storage. “It was a blank slate the way the space presented itself,” Peterson explains. “We tweaked a few things from the original plans to complete the build-out, but once the lights went in and I started hanging art there, something else happened.”
Bringing art into one’s home is an intentional choice designed to enhance one’s enjoyment of a space and appreciation of the art. That same synergy occurred when PCA’s contemporary art was introduced to the new gallery. The space exudes urban sophistication and is the perfect venue to showcase a modern aesthetic. Peterson’s absolute love for his work as a gallerist was the catalyst that initially helped PCA flourish.
Its new location opened this summer with over 30 artists represented. With multiple sales from First Friday events and a full event calendar booked for the remainder of the year, PCA has already established itself as a formidable contemporary art gallery in Bend. The reasons for this are two-fold: Peterson’s expert eye for art and for creating a physical environment that is on par with a contemporary gallery in Portland or NYC, and his ethos as a gallerist who is a true supporter of artists.
Peterson got his start in the art world working as a shipping and receiving clerk for a gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. He swept floors in the back room, crated and moved art, and organized storage bins. His humble beginning taught him that he loved the creative energy of the artists dropping off their work and the conversations they’d have. The gallery owners had three separate locations, and Peterson began hanging work at each. They welcomed his interest in the business, and their relationship transformed into an apprenticeship that lasted for two decades.
“We wanted to officially give those artists the respect and focus their work deserves. Our community is thriving and growing in a beautiful way.”
–Jim Peterson, Peterson Contemporary Art
“I kept saying ‘yes,’ and in the last 10 years working there, I made the decision to sell the art,” he recalls. “I loved the art and loved the people.” In terms of Peterson’s personal timeline, he’d met Nathalie in Arizona years before and they were looking for a different place to raise their children. “Everyone said check out Bend, it’s a special place,” he remembers. Their path was clear, and the Petersons have called Bend home for over 15 years now.
Peterson is a conduit for art between artist and collector. He has a keen eye for the trends and preferences of the market, and represents artists who will round out the mix of aesthetics that his clients seek. He says he is frequently asked by collectors at both Mockingbird Gallery and at PCA how he selects artists. His answer is the same: he scours Instagram, learns by word of mouth, and investigates artist and gallery websites for intriguing work that he pursues. Some artists also reach out directly to him with a portfolio that aligns with an area he is seeking to develop.
An example of this happened with a figurative artist he brought into Mockingbird. Peterson wanted to strengthen the options for collectors seeking figurative work, and he spent several years finding the right artist. Peterson points out that the relationship between gallery and artist is like a marriage, so it is important to engage with people who have a shared philosophy. Unlike other galleries that might pursue artists solely for the commercial value of their work, Peterson also evaluates the holistic effect of how the artists’ lives align with his goal to amplify good art made by people he loves.
“Giving quality representation matters to us. We have the ultimate respect for our artists, and we strive to make the experience special for them. They take the most unconventional career path with no safety net, and we take it very seriously to give them the platform they deserve to continue being creative.”
–Jim Peterson, Peterson Contemporary Art
PCA has an exciting fall planned. Jewelry artist Debe Dohor is the latest artist to join the PCA family. Her rugged and refined take on wearable art translates beautifully to Bend’s aesthetic. “We ordered a jewelry case and her work is an exciting contribution to our contemporary mix,” says Peterson. Also up next at PCA, the Fall Exhibition is slated to open on November 1, 2021. The show features colorful landscapes from Ken Roth, atmospheric works from Valerie Winterholler, and industrialized, representative paintings of the mundane from Donald Yatomi.
Artists create for a variety of reasons and from a variety of places. The common thread is that they are translators who document the human experience. Unfortunately, the starving artist paradigm is real, and many artists live sale-to-sale, which forces them into a relationship where they are creating for their gallery so they can make sales. Peterson is a local expert in his galleries’ respective oeuvres, but his efforts and selections transcend regional meaning and are globally significant in the greater art world.
“The most important advice my mentor gave me was to never forget that we work for the artists; the artists are not here working for us,” he shares. “When we offer to represent an artist, we are going to work hard for them as a gallery. Giving quality representation matters to us. We have the ultimate respect for our artists, and we strive to make the experience special for them. They take the most unconventional career path with no safety net, and we take it very seriously to give them the platform they deserve to continue being creative.”