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Mary Ann Weems says goodbye to namesake gallery

Mary Ann Weems is selling Weems Galleries and Framing, the art gallery she started 38 years ago. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Sheila McVeigh, the new owner of Weems Gallery, has plans for some new features for the gallery. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

After nearly four decades as a pioneering force in Albuquerque’s art scene, Mary Ann Weems is selling her namesake gallery.

Weems told the Journal she plans to turn Weems Galleries and Framing over to new owner Sheila McVeigh at the start of November, marking the end of her direct involvement in the Northeast Albuquerque gallery she founded 38 years ago.

For Weems, who has built the gallery into one of Albuquerque’s best-known art centers while retaining its unique character, the decision is about taking care of her health and opening up free time, while giving the gallery the freedom to move into the future.

“I wanted the gallery to live well beyond me,” Weems told the Journal.

Weems’ career in Albuquerque’s art community began nearly half a century ago, at the New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair. Weems got a degree in art education, with dreams of becoming a grade school art teacher. When those jobs proved hard to come by, Weems leaned on her skills with pencil and ink.

“I always loved drawing, cartooning – that was my forte,” she said.

Her gallery opened in a 400-square-foot storefront at Eastdale Shopping Center in 1981, after the birth of her daughter prompted Weems to pull back on her career as a professional artist.

ABQ art scene was different

Albuquerque’s art scene looked very different 38 years ago, as the city was considered and even promoted as a jumping-off point for artists headed to Santa Fe and Taos.

“There’s always been a lot of artists (in Albuquerque), but they always had to go elsewhere,” she said.

To create a gallery that would be welcoming to visitors, Weems used her background in arts and crafts fairs. Unlike other Albuquerque galleries at the time, Weems’ gallery showcased a wide mix of mediums, including paintings, pottery and even clothing.

Weems made it a point to create a warm, non-intimidating environment with a wide price range. Weems’ Tootsie Pops, which were originally to make kids feel more welcome, became a hit with other visitors as well. While other galleries clustered in Old Town, Weems promoted her space as an “Old Town gallery in the Heights.”

Weems also ran an art gallery in Old Town, and put on the Weems Artfest for more than 30 years to promote the city’s art scene.

The original gallery moved to its current home, at 7200 Montgomery NE, 12 years ago. Today, the gallery has work from more than 200 artists on display, across mediums ranging from pottery to photography, according to Nola Arroyo, administrative assistant at the gallery.

Through it all, Weems said, artists bought into her unconventional vision for an art gallery as she shifted perceptions of what an Albuquerque gallery could look like. In 38 years, Weems said, she never went a day without making a sale.

Taking the reins

New owner McVeigh couldn’t stop beaming as she toured the art gallery with Arroyo on Wednesday morning.

“This is like working in a museum,” McVeigh said. “We have (art from) some of the most incredibly talented people who are masters of their field, and I get to see it every day.”

McVeigh spent much of career in human resources and risk management, most recently developing the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque’s HR department. She turned to art as form of therapy during a challenging time in her career. Although she has worked in a variety of mediums, McVeigh said her favorites are mixed media and watercolor painting.

“I like taking that creative energy and making something that you have never seen,” McVeigh said.

She said that she had been looking for a business for years and that Weems is a perfect fit. McVeigh praised the gallery’s wide variety of art materials and its focus on making art affordable on a range of budgets.

“There’s such a wide range of prices here, that everybody can come in and afford at least one piece of art and walk away happy,” McVeigh said.

Listening, learning

Visitors to the gallery shouldn’t expect to see changes immediately. McVeigh said she intends to use the last couple of months of the year to listen and learn what customers want to see from the gallery. The gallery will keep its name for the foreseeable future, and McVeigh said she plans to retain the gallery’s focus on charitable giving.

McVeigh added that she intends to implement a modern, electronic point-of-sale system, a big change for a gallery that has long used handwritten receipts. Eventually, she plans to incorporate more consignment furniture in the gallery, helping customers visualize pieces of art in their own homes while embracing Weems’ vision of craft as art.

“The best I can do is to be as good as Mary Ann,” McVeigh said.

Meanwhile, Weems said she intends to use her newfound freedom to focus on her health, and potentially take her first long cross-country vacation in nearly four decades. She added that she was grateful for the experience and to the customers who made it possible.

“I love my customers, I love our city and our state, and they’ve supported this gallery through thick and thin,” she said.

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