Jane Haslem had planned to paint, not deal in art, when she first rented studio space in Chapel Hill, N.C., back in 1960.
"My husband was a graduate student at UNC, and because we had two small children, I needed a place to paint," she recalls. "So he gave me $50 to cover the first month's rent in an old country store, and to keep up payments I began to teach. Then I started selling art supplies to students at a discount, and eventually began showing faculty and student work. One day I saw a sculpture by Leonard Baskin on the cover of Life, and called to ask if he'd do a show. He said yes, and that's when it all began."
Two giant Baskin woodcuts from that first show (now priced at more than 10 times the original $150 asking price) open Haslem's current 25th-anniversary show, an intriguing capsule history of exhibitions featured in her various galleries ever since. In Madison, Wis. (where she opened in 1965), and then in three different locations in Washington (starting in Georgetown in 1969), Haslem built a major reputation as one of the nation's leading dealers of work by artist-printmakers such as Misch Kohn, Antonio Frasconi, Will Barnet, Mauricio Lasansky, Rudy Pozzatti, Dean Meeker, Gabor Peterdi, Warrington Colescott and a host of others -- all still part of her formidable stable, and included in this show.
When she came to Washington in 1969 and found that Barbara Fendrick and Harry Lunn were crowding the field in big-name publisher prints by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and others, she began showing early 20th-century prints by John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton, Peggy Bacon and Edward Hopper well before that market took off. Hopper, by the way, is represented here by a 1922 etching titled "Cat Boat," which sold at the time for $1,500 and is now priced at $14,000. There is also a full suite of the six now-famous prints by John Marin, Sloan, Hopper and others given away free with subscriptions to the New Republic back in 1924. The going price today: $15,000.
With enlarged space on P Street in the '70s, and the print boom on the wane, Haslem began showing Op paintings by Richard Anuszkiewicz and Julian Stanczak, along with semi-abstract oils by Peterdi and Mid-Western landscapes by meticulous realist Billy Morrow Jackson, another gallery mainstay. A 1970 review of a Jackson show hangs on the wall beside one of his works, and carries the news that the National Gallery had acquired a Jackson for its collection -- one of its earliest acquisitions of work by a living artist.
Since then, Haslem has introduced a whole new generation of artists, including younger realist painters such as John Winslow, Stephen Tanis and David Hollowell, and graphic artists like Richard Ziemann and Jeri Metz. In 1975 she organized the first exhibitions of political cartoons and comic strips by the likes of Pat Oliphant, Jules Feiffer, Garry Trudeau, Berke Breathed and Charles Schulz, launching an entirely new market that continues to thrive.
Now Haslem is tired, and no wonder. On top of all this -- in pursuit of greater visibility for her artists -- she has been organizing countless traveling shows for museums and university galleries all over the country, something she wants to do full time in the future. "I'm not giving up," says Haslem, quashing gallery-closing rumors that have been circulating for months. "But I have reached a turning point, and as of this month, Suzanne Whelton, my assistant since 1982, will direct the gallery and handle continuing exhibitions. That will give me a chance to learn new things and see what's been going on in the world."
The anniversary show will continue at 406 Seventh St. NW through March 2, and all works are for sale. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays, and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
More from Seventh Street . . .
Out of the winter gloom comes another flash of good news from Seventh Street. Nancy McIntosh Drysdale, one of Washington's most adventurous dealers of contemporary art, will return to 406 Seventh St. in April, after moving her gallery to Houston three years ago to be with her husband, who is now returning to practice law here. The gallery first opened on P Street in Washington in 1977 as Protetch/McIntosh, following the departure of Max Protetch for New York. It moved to "406" in 1980.
"It's been an enlightening three years," said Drysdale, who will bring important artists like Scott Burton, Alice Aycock, Martin Puryear and Pat Steir back to Washington. "There's a much greater market -- and much greater potential -- in Houston than I had anticipated, with many young and enthusiastic collectors just beginning to form important collections. "But I hope to bring my clients with me," said Drysdale, "along with some very fine Texas artists. After all, I don't want to come back empty-handed. Besides, lots of Texans come to Washington these days.