These days, Marfa gets all the attention as an arts destination in West Texas. While the reputation is well-deserved, with the Chinati Foundation and globally recognized galleries calling Marfa home, there is also a thriving arts community in nearby Alpine.
Alpine’s co-op galleries Gallery on the Square is at 115 W. Holland Ave. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Closed Wednesdays. Call 432/837-7203.
CatchLight Art Gallery is at 117 W. Holland Ave. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Closed Tuesdays. Call 432/837-9422.
Art is everywhere in this town—the banks, cafés, motels, and on the street with murals depicting slices of Texas culture nearly everywhere you turn.
Alpine is home to more than 15 art galleries, and I discovered two on Holland Avenue—Gallery on the Square and next door, CatchLight Art Gallery—that showcase diverse, attainable artworks in an accessible setting. These galleries keep consistent hours and offer a broad spectrum of art from realism to abstract at prices that fit most budgets. Both galleries operate as co-ops, meaning that the artists whose works are displayed here have a direct stake in the shops’ operations.
I first walked into Gallery on the Square a few years ago to visit a friend and see his bold acrylic portraits of chickens. As I walked around the modest, no-frills shop, I was amazed by the scope and depth of many of the pieces. All of the artists reside in the Big Bend area, and most of the work is inspired by the region, whether it’s the lush, undulating terrain or the idiosyncratic, unpretentious sensibility that’s common here.
I was drawn to a tiny candy dish, nearly obscured among larger pottery and jewelry displays. The glossy yet imperfect glaze, adorned by a simple petaled flower framed in dots, had a nostalgic but modern quality that I found irresistible. I turned the bowl over to see the price and was astonished at how affordable it was: $12. My friend saw me admire the dish and noted, “Oh, that was made by Karen Nakakihara, and she lives right here in Alpine.”
On a more recent visit to Alpine, I returned to Gallery on the Square hoping for a similar find and spoke to Director Jim Senneff. He explained that the gallery is the storefront for the Big Bend Arts Council, a regional arts organization. Members of the council have the opportunity to show their work here. One condition for displaying their pieces is for the artist to “sit” at the shop for one day each month.
There are more than 25 artists showing work at Gallery on the Square, ranging from traditional Trans-Pecos landscapes by Juliana Johnson to whimsical folk-art figures made from discarded toys by Cheryl Frances. The members include both seasoned professional artists and emerging young talent. I was fascinated by the intricate detail of Anne Eckley’s “thread paintings”—canyon scenes woven on a sewing machine. You’ll find functional art here, too: I admired a large, two-tone wooden rolling pin by Dalvin Jordan, and rows of fountain pens encased in deer antlers, wood, and military campaign ribbons by Alberto Cavazos. Senneff proceeded to show me a slim writing instrument made by Cavazos that I mistook for a pen-and-pencil combo. “This is a teacher’s pen,” he explained. “One end has blue ink, and the other has red for marking papers.”
Next door, CatchLight Art Gallery’s co-op features 14 local artists, some whose work is nationally and internationally recognized. In this pleasant and inviting space, you’ll find stylized, humorous paintings by award-winning editorial illustrator Tom Curry, and watercolors and oils by Carol Fairlie, who was the Honored Artist at the 2015 Alpine Artwalk, a weekend event held in November. Jewelry artisan Virginia Brotherton was at the gallery, and she explained not only her lapidary process to me, but also that of Marjie Erkkila, another gem designer whose work caught my eye.
Watercolorist Jan Moeller, the president of Big Bend Arts Council, also owns and operates CatchLight. Moeller modeled the co-op concept after a similar gallery that she visited in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Along with selecting talented artists and diverse styles, the criteria for showing work in the gallery remains as it did when the group began in 2007: “Be easy to get along with and help.” CatchLight’s artists also work at the shop—twice per month—and assist Moeller with maintenance and promotion. “Working here helps the artists gain personal connections with customers, and they can also refer them to their studios,” she adds.
As with the gallery co-op next door, CatchLight’s artists pay a nominal fee to join the gallery. Both galleries take a much lower commission from art sales than conventional galleries in larger art centers, thus allowing artists to offer more affordable pieces. “Artists whose work has shown in Santa Fe galleries have priced their work up to 50 percent lower here,” says Moeller.
Both Gallery on the Square and CatchLight radiate congeniality and inclusiveness with their mix of genres and expertise. After my gallery visits, I remarked on this to a friend familiar with both galleries, and he recalled the quote made famous by John F. Kennedy, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” When I commented on this to Moeller, she invoked the same quote. This cooperative spirit among artists is not only alive and well, but flourishing.