An Artful Career
After 46 memorable years, William Campbell Contemporary Art is under new ownership.
Original Article By Edward Brown – March 3, 2021 | Fort Worth Weekly
Bill and Pam Campbell, founders and longtime owners of William Campbell Contemporary Art, said many aspects of their career were unexpected.
“When we opened our gallery, we were a bit naive about it,” Pam said. “I don’t know if that was a good or a bad thing.”
Bill said he had no idea that the gallery would thrive for 46 years in the often unpredictable contemporary art market. They were so busy year to year, he said, that the idea of ever retiring (or reflecting on decades of work in the gallery business) always seemed like a distant idea.
This job keeps you “planning a year or two ahead,” he said. “Time goes by pretty fast. You have so much in front of you on a daily basis that if you sit and dream you will miss the boat.”
The option of selling the Arlington Heights-based gallery became a serious possibility when a group of five partners — Peeler Howell, Tim Locke, Jadz Pate, Clayton Snodgrass, and J.W. Wilson — offered to buy the business.
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Howell, who has worked as the gallery manager at William Campbell Contemporary Art for the past three years, said part of his motivation to buy a stake in the business was to preserve the gallery’s legacy. The initial conversation happened over coffee between Howell and Wilson.
“We wanted to continue doing what Bill and Pam had done so well for 46 years,” Howell said.
The friends sat down with Bill and Pam in April to discuss the possibility of handing over ownership to the five partners. The Campbells said they felt honored that the prospective owners wanted to keep the gallery’s name.
“I’ve known Bill and Pam for years,” Wilson said. “I asked Pam for advice on opening an art gallery. That led to Fort Works Art, which I’m no longer a part of. I’ve always admired Bill and Pam for their longevity.”
After so many decades in the art business, Bill said he and his wife didn’t have an “exit strategy” for leaving the gallery, although they had always wanted the gallery to stay open even after their departure.
The offer to buy the gallery came as a “total surprise to us,” Bill said. Howell and Wilson had “great ideas of what they wanted to do. They wanted to continue the name, which I think was smart.”
Bill and Pam said it felt like the right time to pass the gallery to new, younger owners.
“I felt a little like I’ve run out of steam as far as pushing it forward,” Bill said. “A lot of it had to do with the fact that we and our artists have grown older together. The audience was getting older, too, and smaller. New blood is a positive push, in our opinion.”
Ownership of the gallery was officially signed over in December, but Howell and Wilson said the transition has been gradual and ongoing. The new owners are planning minor cosmetic upgrades, but Howell said the business will largely retain the look and feel that customers are familiar with. The gallery’s roster of 40 artists (who mainly sell paintings or works on paper) is evenly split between Texas and national artists, Peeler said. The gallery represents a handful of international artists as well, he added.
“We don’t want to get rid of anyone we currently represent for a number of reasons,” Howell said. “The main reason being we love the artwork. There is room to add some new artists. We’re looking at three of four artists who are more contemporary but not so far out that there isn’t an aesthetic cohesiveness to their work.”
The new owners are currently considering buying a satellite space for hanging large works.
COVID-19 and the internet have driven many to buy art exclusively online. Wilson said, while some foretell the demise of art galleries (along with books, newspapers, movie theaters, and a host of other businesses that continue to persist), the experience of viewing and buying art at a reputable gallery won’t disappear anytime soon.
“I’m coming from an art lover’s point of view,” Wilson said. “For a person like me, a gallery experience is as good as it gets. If we are going to survive, we have to give people art they want to buy. Our job is to bring [paintings and sculptures] that are worth looking at and buying. We aren’t going to reinvent the wheel, just give it fresh legs. We don’t accept that the gallery experience is dying. It has to coexist with the internet. Bill and Pam have proven that to be true.”
Beyond networking and spreading awareness of William Campbell Contemporary Art to the far-flung reaches of Tarrant County and beyond, Peeler said events will be small and socially distanced in the near future to bring new buyers up close to the gallery’s trove of contemporary art.
“It happens regularly that someone says, ‘Oh, I saw this online, but I didn’t really see it until I saw it in person,’ ” Peeler added. “There is no substitute for that experience. We are reaching out to give people an invitation to get people in here and in front of the work while remaining safe and conscious in the age of COVID.”