A Conversation with Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art Owner Sonya Pfeiffer
Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art's owner Sonya Pfeiffer discusses glass art, the Charlotte art scene, and her own journey in the art world
Define the art you choose to represent.
I look for originality and quality of execution, and love discovering artists who are making unique, thoughtful and captivating work that compels the viewer to stop and look just a little deeper. I represent a diverse group of emerging, mid-career and established artists, each of whom reflects upon how to take their work a step beyond beauty in order to courageously explore meaning and purpose as they create. The gallery represents paintings, sculpture and glass art ranging from abstracts to landscapes, with artists who are classically trained, as well “outsider” and contemporary self-taught artists. I believe my job is to find the best talent around and help clear a path for it to be seen by the widest audience possible.
You have recently introduced some amazing Glass Art to Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art.
Kindly discuss your interest in Glass Art.
Glass art mystifies me. Although it is a particularly unforgiving medium, glass also has an extraordinary flexibility that allows an artist to achieve virtually any form, to hold elements in suspension, to achieve great detail or soft abstraction. I also have a deep appreciation for the duality in the making of a glass artwork: the creation begins with an idea, limited only by the particular artist’s imagination and skill in working with the material; then the process gradually becomes more technical. Pulling cane and murine, or carving out a mold, or selecting colored panes of glass. Then laying out the design, or stacking and shuffling the panes, or pouring molten glass into a mold. Finally, at least for glass artists who work with heat, the process of thoughtful creativity ends abruptly and a burst of urgency descends as the work moves to the hotshop. In the hotshop a defined window of time dictates a precise, choreographed dance of fire and color as the artist and at least one assistant race against time to heat, coax and shape the artwork into a form that will cool for days, or weeks, before being revealed as a jawdropping work of art. The process, and the resulting work, never fail to amaze me.
In your experience, how has glass art blossomed as a medium for fine art collectors?
North Carolina holds a special place in the history of American glass art, as several artists of the Studio Glass Movement settled in the region early in their careers. Despite this history, however, there are few galleries in the southeast that offer museum quality fine art glass for sale. We are excited to represent three preeminent glass artists at the gallery, and we have found there is enormous enthusiasm from those who are already familiar with the craft, but also from those for whom glass is relatively undiscovered. It is fun to educate clients and collectors, and it is a joy to share this medium with Charlotte.
What do you seek to bring to the Charlotte art scene?
It’s been my experience that a great gallery has the ability to continually challenge the way things have been done in the past, whether through a reinvention of what's done within gallery walls or what's created outside of them, supporting new, young, and/or political work, and embracing the expansion of existing and new mediums. Through a combination of progressive programming and diverse contemporary exhibitions, I am hoping to create an environment that encourages dialogue, inspires questioning, and builds community.
From television journalist to attorney to gallery owner. Describe your journey from art patron to art dealer.
In many ways, my journey is a linear one. The common thread in each of my professional roles is the power of story. As a television journalist, the power of story was fueled by word, video and sound. I combined creativity and inquisitiveness to figure out how to best communicate information and educate or enlighten viewers. As an attorney, there is nothing more important than effectively communicating my client’s story – whether to the other side in a case, a judge making a decision, or a reporter writing about a result or dramatic turn of events. As a gallery owner and as a collector, I recognize that nothing connects a person more intimately to a work of art than understanding the story of the artwork. It may be the artist herself, and how a personal experience unfolded layer upon layer as she took paint to canvas; it may be the physical making of the artwork, and the effort or labor or circumstances under which it was completed; or it may be a time or place or event that inspired an artwork. Understanding the story of an artist, or an artwork, is critical to understanding the power of art.
What does the future hold for Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art?
Just as many artists obsess over their craft and believe in carrying on a tradition of detail, I am keenly focused on carrying on the tradition I inherited, while growing the roster of outstanding artists and continuing to build the sense of community that Larry Elder established a decade and a half ago. I am really excited about growing the Charlotte Millennial Art Program (Charlotte “MAPS”), our young professional group that introduces “true” Millennials and Millennials at heart to cultural happenings and plans networking events connected to the arts. I am also planning a thoughtful mix of programming that not only builds appreciation for and understanding of art, but also encourages analysis of the world around us. In addition to our current show, The Art of Struggle, I am working on a socially conscious veterans-focused exhibition for November. I hope to build awareness of issues – many overlooked – around returning servicemen and women while also highlighting extraordinary artists in the veteran community. We will also have an invitational to highlight some new talent in the region, and I am planning on several exhibitions with some of the gallery’s established professional artists who are producing fun and interesting new works as they continue to grow.