Sani­bel gallery owner shares thoughts, loves what she does, re­lates a brief his­tory

SANI­BEL GALLERY OWNER SHARES THOUGHTS, LOVES WHAT SHE DOES, RE­LATES A BRIEF HIS­TORY

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Mau­reen Wat­son is the founder of the Wat­son MacRae Gallery on Sani­bel. Con­sid­ered one of the finer gal­leries in South­west Florida, Wat­son MacRae opened in 2008 in the Vil­lage Shops on Peri­win­kle Way. Gallery art­work is quirky and cool, which is how many is­lan­ders de­scribe Wat­son, an edgy New Yorker with a heart of gold. MY HOME­TOWN NEIGH­BOR­HOOD is one of those small towns on the “East End” of Long Is­land be­fore it be­came the “The Hamp­tons.” My neigh­bor­hood was the ocean, the bay and the “crick” that ran be­hind our house. I was a kid of the ’50s, so we rode bikes ev­ery­where, took the bus to the beach and the train to New York City. Since both my par­ents had their own busi­nesses, I worked from the time I was 10 when my fa­ther opened his restau­rant—first in the kitchen, then at 12, I was al­lowed to wait ta­bles. I was hooked. I loved the art of busi­ness.

MY CA­REER PATH af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a de­gree in math­e­mat­ics led to a job with IBM as a pro­gram­mer when com­put­ers that now power a watch were as big as a fam­ily great room. I then worked for Xerox, Citibank in New York City and fi­nally dis­cov­ered the train­ing and de­vel­op­ment in­dus­try, which was in its in­fancy. My ca­reer was a syn­chro­nis­tic se­ries of roads taken and not taken. Along the way I sold Xerox equip­ment door to door in New York’s jew­elry district, founded a $3-mil­lion con­sult­ing com­pany in NYC, stud­ied with Jean Hous­ton at her Mys­tery School, drove cross-coun­try for four months in­ter­view­ing women who had changed their lives by fol­low­ing their in­tu­ition, lived three days in Cincin­nati, stud­ied paint­ing at New York Stu­dio School, co­founded a paint­ing school in Naples, Florida, with Hol­lis Jef­f­coat and opened a fine art g allery on Sani­bel.

DE­SPITE THE fact that I was a woman work­ing in the “Mad Men” world of the ’70s, I suc­ceeded, but only be­cause I started my own busi­ness. Armed with a type-A per­son­al­ity and with non­tra­di­tional parental role mod­els—a mother who owned her own busi­ness and a fa­ther who be­lieved women to be the su­pe­rior sex and re­ferred to him­self as the “First Fem­i­nist”—I started my first busi­ness in 1987.

COM­ING TO FLORIDA was a fam­ily road trip when I was 5. It was even bet­ter than the beach at home. The balmy breezes, shells and the palm trees made Florida ex­otic. And I’m not sur­prised to find my­self back here.

WHEN I started my gallery in 2008, it was based on the idea that “beauty heals.” I thought if beauty heals, then beau­ti­ful art, not nec­es­sar­ily pretty, must heal, as well. With that in­ten­tion, I looked for artists whose work was im­bued with a cer­tain en­ergy or feel­ing or spirit—art that heals. In­ci­den­tally, sev­eral re­cent stud­ies have shown this to be true. When some­one brings a piece of orig­i­nal art into their home, this en­ergy per­me­ates the space. Not all work has this―work made strictly from an artist’s head, “dec­o­ra­tive” work and gi­clées, for ex­am­ple. But for art­work that does, it has a pal­pa­ble pres­ence and adds not only to the beauty and am­bi­ence of a home, but also to the har­mony, the pos­i­tive “vibe.” Since open­ing, I have ex­panded the gallery space, as well as what I of­fer. In the gallery you will find fine art―paint­ings, prints and sculp­ture and fine crafts in fiber, ce­ram­ics and glass.

I TRAVEL all over the coun­try and the In­ter­net to find work that is very high qual­ity, un­usual and has soul. Each month dur­ing sea­son I have a new themed ex­hibit with a fes­tive open­ing and artists’ talks. In Jan­uary, for ex­am­ple, work from five artists I dis­cov­ered this sum­mer in Santa Fe were in the ex­hibit “From Santa Fe with Love.”

IT HAS BEEN a sur­pris­ing and re­ward­ing experience to have the gallery on Sani­bel. Art­work has gone to all parts of the coun­try and var­i­ous parts of the world. Re­cently, it was re­ferred to as an “is­land as­set.” I am grate­ful to be part of a vi­brant, inquiring com­mu­nity and to add to the cul­tural fiber of the is­lands.

SUC­CESS­FUL AS I am, I’m con­tin­u­ally look­ing for how the gallery can be of ser­vice. I think about what peo­ple are hav­ing trou­ble with and how we can help. Merg­ing art col­lec­tions, re­hang­ing paint­ings, choos­ing col­ors for re­paint­ing, wrap­ping and ship­ping art­work so it ar­rives safely … prob­lems. These are the ar­eas that the new Wat­son MacRae Art Ser­vices are help­ing with—and it’s fun.

WHEN I STARTED my first com­pany, I would talk to peo­ple―at the time, men―who owned busi­nesses and ask them, “What are the three things I need to know to be suc­cess­ful?” A sum­mary of their re­sponses was: (1) keep your over­head low; (2) keep your over­head low; and (3) know the busi­ness you’re get­ting into. That is still the ad­vice I would give, and I would add: Re­ally love what you do.

LIFE IS al­ways com­pli­cated. It’s how you move through it that makes it dif­fi­cult or eas­ier.

MAU­REEN WAT­SON

Wat­son MacRae Gallery

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