Today we’d like to introduce you to Gail Foster and Thomas Swanston.
Gail and Thomas, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
After meeting in NYC at the extraordinary, Parsons School of Design’s first matriculating MFA class/program, (degree issued by the New School for Social Research), we moved to Baltimore to allow Gail to take a teaching position at the Maryland Institute College of Art; she had graduated Summa Cum Laude from MICA several years prior. However, teaching (odd jobs for me) just wasn’t a good fit, so we moved to warmer, fast growing, wealthy Atlanta to start a gallery and consulting group.
We specialized in representing world quality visual art created by underappreciated/under recognized artists, to the high end architectural and hospitality industries, growing to a staff of 8 with 2 million annual revenue. Not bad for a couple of twenty somethings who began with a $5000 loan from Gails father in a part of down town Atlanta that at the time, was fairly “shady”, with more than its share of blood buyers and liquor stores.
After eight very successful, very hard-working years in the gallery/consulting world, we sold the business. Again, just not a good fit for either of us. Quite simply, our passion for painting outweighed the success.
Living on a rented 650-acre farm 17 miles outside of Atlanta with very low overhead and some funds in the bank from the sale of the gallery we took a year off to hide in our studios, closing out the world to decompress before starting out on our new career: visual artists – that was thirty years ago, we have never looked back.
Actually, Gail has been the driving force for many of the positive changes over the course of our careers – it was Gail who pressed the sale of the gallery/consulting firm so we could be visual artists again; she pressed to build a free standing studio of her own; Gail later came to an agreement with a major collector to build a new $100K state of the art studio for her to make art, in a clean safe work environment. Having been working out of a smallish retail store front a few miles away, it was Gail that encouraged me to take over her old studio then to spend the necessary money to renovate it so we could both be within a 50 yard walk from our back door. We lived idyllically that way for roughly twenty-five years until development swept into our neck of the woods.
Our friends the Nygrens were incubating a new idea, the Serenbe community, they wanted us to help them make it a reality. We developed a three unit “live – work” building (based on the old industrial river mill buildings of Gail’s hometown, Providence RI., mated to a Southern vernacular), in the heart of the new community with the ground floor a gallery, our studios on the second & third floor and our home the next unit over. That was 2005… everything was running smoothly until the Great Recession tidal wave overran everything in its path, including us. With galleries across the US closing, owing us money and not returning consigned inventory (losses totaled over half a million) we were forced to close the gallery in 2009, leasing the space. We kept our studios until 2013 when we renovated them, creating a rental unit. Hanging on to our home, I rented a store front in a tiny town close by as my studio and Gail went to the King Plow Art Center for a studio.
Today, we live 5 minutes from the Serenbe community in a small country home on a lake, 45 minutes from out studios at King Plow Art Center with a 1,400-sq.ft. space in Peachtree Pointe just four blocks north of the High Museum, the Viewing Room, to show collectors our finished art with an exhibition programming that excites us.
Throughout the 4 decades of our professional lives, we have worked with galleries, art consultants, private clients and just about any other permutation from brick on mortar to online, to sell our art work and continue our careers. Today, Gail markets and sells her work exclusively through direct contact with consultants and collectors, reaching out through various social media platforms. I work with galleries and consultants in primary, secondary and resort locations, from Boston to Jackson Hole to San Francisco. We have placed art in prominent private and public collections across the globe: Turkey, China, Taiwan, Korea, Spain, Mexico, BVI, Canada and of course across the US.
Today my mission is to create art work that speaks to the issue of environmental degradation, habitat loss and declining numbers of cranes species across the US and the world. We give back: with most sales I provide a 5% donation on behalf of the sale price to either Audubon or the Rowe Sanctuary. For instance, with every exhibition in New Orleans at Soren Christensen Gallery, 5% of my sales are donated to the local Audubon chapter.
Gail’s mission has always been to bring attention to women’s issues – working with Eve Ensler in New Orleans to donating a portion of sales to the Atlanta Womens Foundation, she is dedicated to changing perceptions of women in the world.
I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention a life changing that in 2013 Gail had a fall in her studio, causing an incomplete spinal cord injury. She/we were extremely fortunate that the #1 spinal center, Shepherd Spinal Center, is in Atlanta and that a neighbor couple, friends and collector is the Medical Director of Orthopedics at Shepherd. After spending time in Shepherd getting stabilized and working towards her release, we set up her King Plow studio, so she could return to working.
When Gail did return to work, for the new Shepherd Chapel, she got together with a long-time collector and the Shepherd chapel donor to create a 78″ x 56″ commission for the front of the space. Giving back to those that did so much for her.
Gail is resourceful, resilient and fiercely intelligent – four years later, too many paintings, drawings, photographs and mixed media created to count – she continues on. Her optimism is contagious and she figures out ways to work around any obstacle that gets in her way.
Finally, Gail and I have a terrific studio and office team that works with us – Alexis McGrigg is our overall administrator, Crystal Kim is Gail’s studio assistant, Mary Hollis is my studio assistant and Helen Walker is our bookkeeper/accountant. Our outstanding team provides the foundation for our success.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The Great Recession was the most recent largest financial obstacles. We can’t get a traditional SBA loan because we are in a “high risk business”. Cash flow is an issue. Finding the right team has been difficult periodically, although right now we have a terrific group! Finding institutional arts support has been challenging – while we have been successful for 4 decades finding acceptance from museums, independent curators, critics has been an issue.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the StudioSwan story. Tell us more about the business.
Quite simply, we are two working visual artists – that have an umbrella LLC, StudioSwan, that is the legal structure for our business. Gail is a painter, photographer, mixed media visual artist who focuses her attention on attention on the issues of the feminine and women in today’s culture: violence, neglect, sexism and gender bias – always from an optimistic perspective of overcoming and succeeding.
Tom’s focus is on raising awareness of cranes and their beauty – their long term conservation and strategy for actions for their major threats, such as habitat loss. As a company and couple we give back: we donate each year roughly $50,000 in artwork to non profit auctions that are close to our missions; Chattahoochee River Keepers, Captain Planet, Audubon Society and a host of visual cultural institutions.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
What would you rather have, luck or good business plan… in fact, it takes a lot of hard work to be lucky in business.
- Address: 887 West Marietta Street NW, Suite S-102
- Website: www.studioswan.com
- Phone: 7704639440
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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