Amidst Durango’s bustling downtown distractions and the noise of a harried life, one can simply step through an open door, in the heart of it all, and experience peace. Entering the Sorrel Sky Gallery, a serene and awe-inspiring environment awaits you. It is abundantly clear that every aspect of the space has been carefully and expertly curated. A brilliant mix of painting and sculpture are meticulously placed to create a most inviting and calming experience for all who visit. When you meet Shanan Campbell, the gallery’s founder and owner, it is no surprise that she has created such an exceptional space. As the daughter of former US Senator and artist Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Shanan inherited from her father not only a love and appreciation for art, but also a determined spirit and a drive to succeed and to surpass expectation.
She grew up as her father’s shadow in an era of his life when he was creating jewelry and travelling to art shows. Shanan spent much of her childhood playing and sleeping under the display tables at art fairs and exhibits, and wandering the aisles absorbing the beauty that surrounded her. In high school she helped at Toh-Atin Gallery. Seeing how it was managed, Shannan developed an understanding of the relationship and the respect that should exist between a gallery and the artists represented there. All of those early experiences have instilled in Shanan the values that have ultimately become her mission for the gallery.
“Our role is to connect artists with collectors,” Shanan said, explaining that she seeks to understand each artist as clearly and deeply as possible so as to communicate their art and their values with potential collectors. “It’s a long-term commitment and we are in it together.” Every path Shanan has taken has added to her expertise in communicating between artists and collectors. She earned degrees in Art and Business in college, and worked for the Franklin Mint as an art scout and for the Smithsonian Institution in product development and licensing. Life and family eventually brought her back to Durango where she managed her father’s gallery for a while and then Toh-Atin Gallery for eight years. Finally, in 2002, Shanan decided it was time to do something on her own. She could never have anticipated the challenges that lay ahead.
“I opened the gallery that summer of those terrible fires in 2002,” Shanan said. “It was a whole other situation from what our fires were last year. It wiped businesses out. It was the worst summer Durango had experienced since probably the ‘70s. So that’s when I opened. I had two boys—a one-year-old and a three-year-old—and I had no line of credit, nothing to fall back on, and I was getting divorced. Really it was the scariest experience in business that I had gone through.”
She leaned in to the challenges though, determined to come out stronger and more successful on the other end. With the gallery struggling under the impact of the fires that summer, Shanan knew she had to find another way to supplement her business. That’s when she decided to also offer a corporate art consulting service. She added Sorrel Sky Art & Design to her business and kept pushing forward. Shanan explained the difference in how the two businesses operate saying, “It’s exactly the opposite of the gallery because in the consulting service, I am representing the client exclusively. I represent their needs and their budget and what they are trying to accomplish, and I source artists that fit that. With the gallery, I am representing very specific artists and looking for the right clientele for them.”
Shanan looks back across the 17 years since opening the gallery and the consulting business with both pride and humility. The challenges she faced in fighting to succeed truly tested her in every possible way. “Being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing you can do,” she stated candidly. “You have to grow. You have to step into your fear. It forces you to look in the mirror and deal with yourself. Every fear that could come up does come up.”
Shanan has faced and overcome every single one of those fears though, and has built something truly beautiful in the process. She has refined and perfected her gallery and consulting businesses, working to make sure she is providing the best possible experience for both her artists and her collectors. She has also been able to expand and open another location in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Between the two galleries, Sorrel Sky represents almost 100 artists.
“It’s so fun and wonderful,” Shanan said, describing how she feels about the work to which she has dedicated her life. “Dealing in a passion business and dealing with these passionate people is just really fabulous.” Every hurdle and challenge have been completely worth it in the end. Shanan has built many beautiful friendships over the years with artists featured in her galleries, and she gets to live for a cause in which she deeply believes.
The love and appreciation for art must run in the family. Luke Longfellow, Shanan’s oldest son, was three when she first embarked on this profes-sional adventure. He is now living in Santa Fe and managing the gallery there. Her younger son, Saylor Longfellow, is in college at CSU but will be working in the Durango gallery over the summer. “What we are doing is really important,” she said. “When you look at the world and what is going on right now, there is so much darkness and devastation and sadness and difficulty. When that is the case for a world environment, it is so critical that there is lightness, joy, and happiness, and that we have the ability to remember who we are and why we are on the planet. Expression through art is, in my opinion, the most important and long-lasting way to celebrate that.” “I don’t know what the future is going to be but it’s really good training for them,” Shanan said. She also noted that “having two successful locations and having figured that out has got me ready to think about expanding. I am actively looking in Denver. It would be a natural next location.” Whatever the future holds, you can be sure it rests in good hands with Shanan Campbell.
“Dealing in a passion business and dealing with these passionate people is just really fabulous.” - Shanan Campbell
Story written by: Sara Knight Photos Provided by: Sorrel Sky Gallery