Patina Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
OWNERS: Allison and Ivan Barnett; URL:patina-gallery.com; FOUNDED: 1999; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1999; EMPLOYEES: 8 ; AREA: 2,000 square feet; ONLINE PRESENCE: 3,377 Facebook followers; 4,513 Instagram followers
AFTER ARTISTS IVAN and Allison Barnett met and married in Santa Fe, NM, in 1997, they realized they could parlay their talents and experience into creating a plan for opening their own gallery.
Allison, who had studied metalsmithing, had been working at a high-profile jewelry gallery in Santa Fe for six years; Ivan had worked as an artist in the craft world for years.
Allison was so excited when they found an available gallery space in 1999 that she dashed over to the gallery on a wintry night in her nightgown while clutching their first digital camera to take a picture of the storefront. At home, on her computer, she inserted the name “Patina” on top of the image, as if it were already the sign over the door. The couple brought that image to their first artist fair in February and showed it to artists who could visualize what the space would soon look like.
“That was a powerful moment for us, when we were first beginning to tell our story,” Ivan says.
They knew that story had to be compelling to keep their gallery vital in a city with 250 galleries, 40 percent of which disappear every five years, says Ivan, who is creative director. “Every time you turn around, there’s someone new and someone has left.”
From the beginning, Patina’s goal was to appeal not to everyone, but to a very specific client for whom they would create a “soul-stirring” experience, long before “experiential retail” became a catch phrase.
“What’s the magic? From the very beginning, we chose artists and makers because we love what they do. It’s not commercially driven,” says Ivan. They look for quality and professionalism when choosing artists to represent. Ninety-nine percent of them also make their own pieces; many have their work exhibited in museums around the world. “We don’t work with what we would describe as designers, whose work someone else is making,” Allison says.
Although in the beginning Ivan and Allison frequently attended jewelry shows and art fairs to identify promising artists, now artists seek them out. “For us to take on a new artist, we have to feel right about it,” Ivan says. “For all the things it takes for them to be represented in the gallery, it is an expensive process and they need to have good professional practices.”
The specific clients they cultivate are a mix of locals, visitors, and hybrids who live in Santa Fe during summers and holidays. They form a very loyal following. Eighty percent are women buying for themselves. Many are collectors.
“They call me immediately when they see something new and they buy it,” Ivan says. “Some of our artists are exclusive to the gallery, and clients know they can only get it through us. To be a person’s favorite gallery in a town where there are 250 other galleries is quite an honor.”
Patina is designed to be an aesthetically pleasing oasis curated as its own work of art. Surfaces, spaces and sensations are meant to enhance wellbeing. “We are creating an environment, amassed with beautiful things that connect on a visceral level,”
Ivan says. He explains it as working to connect visual dots by juxtaposing pieces of differing character together to create a fluid narrative.
The sales approach is as personal and distinctive as the curation of the art and the space.
Customer service means nurturing relationships with customers in a way that goes beyond the experience in the gallery, about checking in with them from a human standpoint and staying in touch as a friend.
“It’s about keeping my hand on the client,” says Allison, director of sales. “I liken it to a massage, where the masseuse stays with you, there’s this energetic connection between the two of you during the experience, a special connection. Sending pictures and getting as close to what the piece could be and will be, keeping it fun, keeping it lighthearted, anything they might need.”
When it comes to custom jewelry projects, she enjoys and anticipates delivering over-the-top service. She worked with a client on a watch bracelet commission that took over a year to complete while the German artist fabricated the gold bracelet and sourced the perfect opal and found the right watch face.
If clients are in town, she’ll be their concierge, making hotel and dinner reservations. “I will be their travel agent,” she says. “I like to give back. I get so much in return from clients. I like to be folded into their lives. I want it to be really positive and joyful.”
Through the years, they’ve expanded to representing European artists. “It’s global and that has not been an easy thing to do, importing and exporting works, especially now due to COVID,” Ivan says.
Their client base is increasingly far flung as well since they began prioritizing e-commerce. Ten years ago, Ivan says, he saw the writing on the wall and began to believe they needed to invest in developing e-commerce. In the past five years, that plan accelerated so that when COVID hit, their e-commerce site was about 80 percent built.
“When COVID came and we were all shut in, we pivoted very quickly with our team, and within about six weeks, things were coming in on the cart every week, or someone was making a direct call to find out more about something they’d seen,” Ivan says. “If we would have had to start from the ground up, we’d still be trying to figure it out. E-commerce is doing well at all levels. We’re operating both online and in store.”
In the past year, they also deployed payment assistant, Affirm, and installed web chat and a system to efficiently add new works to the site in real time. They’ve also invested in the personnel needed to make it happen. In fact, during COVID shutdowns and slowdowns, they were able to keep most of their staff employed because they were working on the website.
Allison kept interest alive during the slowest times by hosting the video series “Mindful Meditations,” to talk about a different artist every Friday.
Five Cool Things About Patina Gallery
1. Relationship with Santa Fe Opera. In recent years, Patina has collaborated with The Santa Fe Opera to curate a jewelry exhibition inspired by an opera in their current season. “We’ve done themes around operas where an artist makes an entire collection, with a marketing element that we take to really serious levels,” says Ivan. This year, artist Peter Schmid drew inspiration from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and designed brooches and pendants around Queen Titania and fairies, and butterfly rings with moving wings.
2. Community involvement. The gallery hosts a pre-opening for Santa Fe Opera devotees, and a portion of the proceeds from the evening goes to support the opera’s Technical Apprentice Program. They’ve also partnered with other likeminded institutions, providing time and resources to create events with partners such as The Nature Conservancy, Site Santa Fe, Santa Fe Art Institute, etc., and donate to a common cause.
3. Local legacy of craft. Patina’s space was once home to the original Native Crafts Market of the 1930s, which later evolved to Santa Fe’s iconic Spanish Market. Their landlords are part of the family who began the Native market and also own and operate the well-known living history museum, El Rancho de las Golondrinas. “We are honored to be part of this long-lived legacy of craft,” Ivan says.
4. Elevating creative. Copywriting, photography, design and communications are handled in-house by a creative team charged with producing clean and minimalist content that elevates the power of visuals to soul-stirring, Ivan says. “While we are busy marketing our exhibitions, we are also creating collateral for product marketing; we are elevating our web presence, and we are strategizing public relations, social media, event planning and financing for the next year. Oftentimes, we’ll have someone come to us and say that they were touched by the beautiful design in an ad, or by the way we described a collection.”
5. Role playing. Ivan says he knew that if he were going to elevate Patina to the next level of success, the staff needed specialization, a challenging goal for a small business where everyone by necessity is responsible for multiple roles. Now, the gallery has a designated graphic design department, a media/PR department, a photo team, administration, finance, etc. “Compartmentalizing our team was, for us, discovering how and where we needed to grow,” says Ivan.
PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)
- Jennifer Acevedo: Sophisticated branding and simple, straightforward messaging convey the abundance of creativity that resides within its owners.
- Emma Boulle:The interior of the space looks very warm, welcoming and has clean lines.
- Gabrielle Grazi: Warm and inviting, filled with the unexpected. Arranged both deliberately and creatively throughout the space.
- Andrea Hill: Patina demonstrates the power of curation, and how the curation of a store’s collection is an expression of a store’s brand.
- Larry Johnson: A beautiful store that captures the Santa Fe spirit and makes it available for their customers to wear.
Do everything “in your own voice,” says Ivan. “Follow your heart and your aesthetic and do whatever you love. That will make your store a great store. Do what you do, or some part of what you do, really differently. Sometimes it does lie in exclusivity. You want to be a destination.”