Gallery owner Don Hoffman celebrates 50 years as an art dealer
November 7, 2014
Don Hoffman knows fine art.
The owner of Hoffman Fine Art and Exotics at Redstone has been dealing with art for 50 years and knows how difficult it is to run a gallery.
"It’s a tough business, because when you sell art, you’re essentially selling a product that no one needs," Hoffman told The Park Record. "They may want it, but they don’t need it."
Still, Hoffman has always been one to take on a challenge, even when it comes by accident.
"My family is from California and my sister moved to Provo 50 years ago, thinking that Utah was a better place to raise a family," Hoffman said. "I looked through the Wall Street Journal and saw a gallery for sale, so I bought it and we sent all the equipment to Provo."
Hoffman’s brother-in-law, who was a firefighter, became the resident framer.
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"We set up a shop called Lido and started selling prints and I noticed that I would spend just as much time selling the prints as I would if I sold originals," Hoffman said. "So, we started selling originals."
Hoffman had trained to be an architect and developed a good eye for design and composition, which helped him find quality work to sell.
"One thing led to another and we started doing shows," he said. "We attracted many dealers from Scottsdale, Arizona, would come by on their yearly trek to Jackson Hole, Wyoming."
Although business was steady, it was almost impossible to make a living with just the shop in Provo, according to Hoffman.
"So we would load up the van and truck across the country, doing shows," he said. "I would pick up artists who wanted to be represented when I went to these shows. That way I could see what they did."
Hoffman would attend shows in Texas and then travel to New York and Boston and after traveling cross-country a few times, came up with an idea created a company called Art Resources.
"It was an art gallery networking company," Hoffman said. "I could see a need for networking, because if I didn’t have something that people wanted, another gallery would.
"We started to call on galleries all around the country and sign them up," he said. "We eventually ended up with more than 400 galleries in the pool."
That’s when Hoffman upped the ante and developed what is known as The Registry, a closed-circuit networking platform that tapped into the pool of galleries.
"The equipment was furnished by Sony and Pioneer and with a flick of a control, people could see what all the other galleries had to offer," he said. "This was 30 years or so before the Internet."
Unfortunately, the idea was too ahead of its time for the other gallery owners to grasp.
"I became so frustrated because I couldn’t get these galleries to participate more," Hoffman said. "They would buy the equipment and install it, but not work with it."
So he thought of expanding into other areas of sales.
"One day, I went to Newport Beach, California, and visited a boat shop," Hoffman said. "I had my equipment and showed the owner and they wanted in, but my partners didn’t want me to stop selling art. It was really frustrating."
Hoffman stopped everything, regrouped and began using The Registry to market houses.
"We would photograph full houses and show them, but we were just too ahead of our time and I just let the idea die and just focused once again on our own art galleries," he said.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Hoffman opened Lido galleries in Carmel, California, and Sedona and Scottsdale, Arizona.
"At one time we had five galleries, including one on Main Street in Park City," he said.
The first location was in the Mrs. Fields Cookie College building at 268 Main Street.
"We had a little space there, and the floors weren’t level," Hoffman said with a laugh. "They were so sloped that if I sat in my office chair normally, I would slide out of it. So, in order for me to stay seated, I had to turn my chair around and face the wall."
From there Lido moved to the top of Main and then to lower Main.
At this time, Hoffman started up The Registry again with new members.
"One of my clients came into the gallery and across the screen flashed an airplane," Hoffman remembered. "My client turned to me and said, ‘I need one of those,’ and I said, ‘We can get you one.’"
The man not only bought a $7 million Cessna Citation Bravo jet, but also a Rolls Royce, watches and paintings.
When Hoffman closed Lido and opened Hoffman Exotics and Fine Art at Redstone 3½ years ago, he took The Registry with him and still uses it, but he also is focused on selling art from artists he has developed relationships with during the past 50 years.
One of those artists was Provo-based nature painter and sculptor Michael Coleman.
"I remember him from the days we were in Provo," Hoffman said. "I had a client who wanted to sell one of Michael’s paintings. So we put it in the window and Michael came in and said we couldn’t do that because we weren’t authorized to sell his painting."
Over time, Coleman got to know Hoffman and began allowing him to sell his paintings.
"We have sold tens-of-thousands of dollars of his works," Hoffman said.
Other artists that Hoffman represents include the late Ray Swanson, his brother Gary Swanson and Gary’s son, Trevor.
"Gary was someone I hooked up with some time through Ray," Hoffman said. "I would go to Ray’s house in Scottsdale and see what they did and got involved with their art.
"Ray would bring his paintings to me and made sure I had enough of his works to take with me on my road trips," he said. "Through Ray, I picked up Gary."
Gary Swanson was a taxidermist and Hoffman loved his work.
"If I loved an artist’s work, I know I could sell it," Hoffman said.
Through Gary, Hoffman picked up his son Trevor.
"Trevor is picking up where his dad left off, as far as painting goes," Hoffman said.
Other painters whose works are sold at Hoffman Exotics and Fine Art include the late Brownell McGrew, Valoy Eaton, Gordon Snidow and Sam Wisnom.
Hoffman has sold every work McGrew painted before the artist died and enjoyed working with him. When everyone was selling paintings for $40,000, McGrew would sell his for $100,000 to $120,000, according to Hoffman.
"I had a conversation with his wife Ann and said, ‘Brownie’s paintings will sell for $1 million, mark my words,’ and we sold one for $970,000 before she and he died," Hoffman said. "We have two of Brownie’s works now."
One of those paintings sold for $350,000.
"Brownie took seven years to paint it. It was seven feet long and had more than 68 figures in it," Hoffman said. "It was on display in a bank in New Mexico and I had told a client about it and he agreed to meet me at the bank and bought it right there."
Hoffman Exotics and Fine Arts also sells works by sculptor Stanley Wanlass, who is known for his Lewis and Clark sculpture, "End of the Line," in Seaside, Oregon, and pieces by sculptor Peter Fillerup, who is considered the expert on the Pony Express and other Western works.
Instead of recruiting artists at shows like he did years ago, Hoffman, who married his wife and gallery manager Ioni 2006, would browse through magazines and see some art that he likes and call the artist.
"It’s important to engage in a conversation with the artists, because you can’t just tell them, ‘I have a gallery, so come up,’" Hoffman said. "No, you have to earn a relationship."
Also, the artwork has to touch Hoffman in an emotional way.
"The real good artists have soul, and that comes out of them and goes into their paintings or sculptures," Hoffman said.
Hoffman Fine Art and Exotics is located at 1678 Redstone Center Dr., Suites 110-115. For more information, visit http://www.hoffmansfineart.com or call 801-349-5026.