Columbus is home to many retired veterans, but none are quite like Ted Johnson. Johnson recently retired after 22 years in the Army and decided to follow his dream of opening an art gallery in Columbus.
Johnson and his wife, Monica, restored a historic home in Midtown to house Leigh and Paige Fine Art Gallery. The gallery primarily represents living artists from around the Southeast and contains more than 300 pieces available for purchase.
Johnson recently corresponded with arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace to discuss the gallery, what Leigh and Paige has to offer its customers as an experience and a destination, and why working with living artists is an absolute dream.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Q: What is the significance behind the art gallery's name?
A: When choosing a name for the gallery, after looking across the industry for trends in naming, many were named after the owner. “Ted Johnson” did not seem to stand out as an appropriate choice for names, so I chose “Leigh & Paige” instead. I believed that there should be a close connection with me, so “Leigh” is my wife Monica’s middle name, and “Paige” is my daughter Alex’s middle name. Put together, they make a nice, elegant title. It got them excited about the business even though at the time of the naming, it was little more than a basic concept that evolved quite a bit before we opened our doors.
Q: Does your new gallery focus on specific types or periods of art?
A: The gallery represents living artists, though we do carry a limited inventory of secondary market artwork from the 20th and 19th centuries (very limited). One of the services we provide is consignment of privately owned art, actively seeking buyers for works from someone’s personal collection, rather than attempting to sell themselves or entrust it to an estate sale representative.
Part of what we believe makes us unique is the diversity in our art. We represent a core stable of 15 artists and will continue to grow our family as long as we can provide them the representation they need to be successful. The styles of art include impressionism, realism, photorealism, contemporary and abstract, folk, and several three-dimensional mediums as well, including ceramic, wood, and stone. We want visitors, whether they are experienced art enthusiasts or someone unfamiliar with the art world, to see works that capture their attention. Whether they know it or not, I believe everyone will be drawn to a particular piece or style of art once they see it.
Working with living artists is a rewarding experience. Each of them, like all people, have a personal story that brings their artwork to life. They defy the common stereotypes of today’s artists. Meeting them for the first time, you wouldn’t know they were an artist unless they told you. These are special people, and it has been a fulfilling opportunity for me to know them.
Q: How does your gallery differ from other local galleries?
A: We are the only fine art gallery in the greater Columbus area with a large, diverse collection of works in varying mediums and styles, all by professional artists. All works in our gallery are original and the artists we represent I consider to be the best in their particular style and medium in the region. If someone likes an artist’s work, we have access to other works by the artists not currently in the gallery. If there is not a work from the artist they like that fulfills their specific requirement, many of the artists can create it for them by commissioning them. If someone is looking for artwork we or our represented artists don’t have, I’m certain we could find it for them.
Though our art is diverse, I have three simple yet demanding requirements: 1) the work must be of the highest quality and skill – education and training are not a requirement, and they don’t guarantee acceptance into the gallery; 2) their work must be uniquely theirs, meaning the artist stands out from their peers who use the same general style and medium. They have something in their work that sets them apart; and 3) there’s a consistency to their work. None of their pieces vary in quality, but rather they all are terrific. They all deliver excellence without fail.
Finally, we offer our gallery for rental for social events, meetings, and other occasions. We have a 1/3 acre fenced-in lawn behind the gallery with privacy screening which provides limitless possibilities for outdoor events.
To support the local community’s arts and culture, the gallery hosts visits and smaller events at no cost. Recently the organization Early Columbus Georgia held a quarterly meeting and “show and tell” event at the gallery. This past week we allowed a student from CHS to host a showcase of her pottery and a reception in the gallery as part of her senior project. We hope to receive more visits from local schools and other organizations that help the public grow an appreciation for the arts.
From a non-tangible standpoint, just walk in and see the gallery. There’s nothing like this around. It’s designed to be an experience and a destination.
Q: How long have you been in the gallery business?
A: This grew from an idea I had driving back from Wyoming after an unforgettable three-week trip with my daughter Alex. I’ve always had a layman’s affinity for art, antiques, and books, but would never claim to be an expert in any of them. I recently retired from the U.S. Army after serving 22 years. We just opened our doors Feb. 1.
Q: What got you interested in opening an art gallery in Columbus?
A: For the past several years I became interested in starting a small business following retirement from the military. Originally my business idea involved only secondary market art dealing, simply buying and selling fine art. All my activity would be online via my own website, third party e-commerce sites, and face-to-face meetings. But one day after picking up Alex from Columbus High School, we drove by a small boutique-style gallery that carried local artists and other merchandise and saw a For Sale sign. I walked in and spoke to the owner, and we started negotiating an agreement. In short, we moved in and started from scratch in early January. I did not begin recruiting artists until I researched artists in the local area and across Georgia and Alabama, then began meeting with them in November. I wanted our business to be special and occupy a unfilled niche to support art lovers, collectors, designers, and whoever else enjoys art. Everything in the gallery I like. Working in this business is the next best thing to owning all the art we showcase.
Last summer when I began this journey, what attracted me to the idea of working with fine art and the artists who create it was the beauty, emotion and authenticity found in the works. Nothing created by means other than our hands can compare. You can find personal value in artwork knowing it was an individual, one-of-a-kind creation, that required time, resources, imagination, and the emotion of the artist to create, whether it is to tell a story or express themselves through their work.
Q: How many works of art are you opening with this month?
A: It’s complicated. Out front in our viewing rooms we have over 250 pieces on display. This includes everything from a small wood piece that fits in the palm of your hand to a seven-foot-tall painting and sculptures that weigh several hundred pounds. I intend to decorate the back hallway of the gallery for the opening reception with smaller works, along with additional work in the viewing rooms, which will increase the number to well over 300. Also, I have over 150 unframed original paintings in my office in the back, along with an additional 50 framed works or works on canvas from our represented artists.
Q: Do you represent any local artists?
A: Yes, we do. Several artists from the greater Columbus area, but many more from the region. I intend to keep the gallery focused on artists in the Southeastern U.S. Our current family of artists are within a half-day’s drive from Columbus, but will venture further if necessary. There is no shortage of artists that meet our requirements as laid out in question three.
Q: What else should readers know about you as the owner? Any other hobbies or artistic interests? Do you paint?
A: I’m originally from Fairfax, Va. My wife Monica is an artist. My hope is that business is good so in a year or so she can focus on her art and the gallery full time – every artist’s dream. I officially retired last October. Columbus is now our home and we truly enjoy living and working in the South. It’s green all the time, the people are nice, and only a few hours from the beach and the mountains!
Q: Any special events coming up?
A: We will continue to host community outreach events when requested, we will begin “edutainment” evenings where folks can come and listen and discuss different subjects with artists, live art demos, and other professionals from the arts community. We plan to announce our next exhibit opening this coming week. Every 45 days or so we will have another exhibit opening, and are in the early stages of planning two special events this coming fall in October and November focused on Folk Art and Christmas.
Q: Anything else I should know about this new venture that could inform the feature in any way?
A: We are in the Wynnton Village Historical District in a home built in 1916. I did a limited renovation with the goal of maintaining the rustic appeal, though ensuring our gallery can display art as well as any gallery in a large city, including museum- and gallery-grade lighting. I put a lot of time studying and thinking through the colors of interior and exterior paint, how to arrange the work, how to find a balance between tasteful display and clutter and shape the customer’s overall experience.
If You Go:
What: Leigh and Paige Fine Art Gallery
When: Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10-6, or by appointment
Where: 1309 Wildwood Ave
Cost: Free to enter. Art prices vary.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 706-392-1244