How did you end up opening a gallery in Santa Fe?
I didn’t open the gallery until the late ’70s. By then, we were living in Santa Fe and I would drive on the Paseo and pass the Fenn Gallery and think, ‘How did that go so quickly from this little trinket shop to this big business?’ I decided the only way to really know would be to work there. I conspired to get a job at the gallery and I became Forrest Fenn’s director of research. I met a lot of people and I saw a lot of art. I had always dreamed of traveling, and I decided that I would like to mount traveling art shows. I spoke to Forrest and…he didn’t like the idea. This was 1977 and there were no art fairs yet. But one of the people I met during my time at Forrest’s had a big gallery in New York and we had become friends, and he said, ‘Why don’t you start your own gallery?’ I thought, ‘How would I do that? I don’t have any money and I don’t have any art.’
But I knew a lot of people who made art, just my friends, and I thought maybe I’d put together a traveling show. I decided it would be in Toronto, which made it exciting for me because it would be international and I was all about, in my mind, maybe being international. So I bought a ticket to Toronto. I assembled a notebook of snapshots of work by my friends. I had a contact with one person who was a designer there. I said, ‘I’m going to be producing an exhibition in Toronto and I’m looking for a venue…’ And, see, this is beginner’s luck, because that person introduced me to William Louis-Dreyfus, a big collector, an international man of money who was later famous for being the father of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. But back then, he was building a big, upscale shopping center in a primo area of Toronto, and he told me I could have this 5,000-square-foot unfinished space for my show. I flew back to New Mexico and began assembling art. I went to the bank and borrowed $25,000.
What work did you show?
In that show was Larry Bell, Luis Jiménez, Carol Mothner, Paul Pletka, Paul Sarkisian, Allan Graham, John Fincher, Forrest Moses, Ken Price—lots of people. I also had a couple of O’Keeffes to try and sell. We put all the work in a truck, I rented an apartment near the venue, and I got a mailing list from a few different people and I designed an invitation. I said I was the Linda Durham Gallery, but I didn’t have a gallery. We addressed about 2,000 invitations to unknown people in Toronto, and the day I put them in the mail was the day of the great Canadian postal strike. So these invitations languished and weren’t sent in time. We installed the show and, of course, no one came. Nobody knew about it. I was in that big space alone with all the art.
I managed to sell a couple pieces to Dreyfus but I lost $15,000. But I had some instant credibility. A little later, Larry Bell introduced me to some real collectors from the Bay Area, and they wanted to come to Santa Fe with a group and look at work. I
arranged a gallery in my living room and gave a very nice cocktail party. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was charming. One of the women asked if I would consider doing a show in the Bay Area. So I did my second show, called New Mexico in the Bay Area. Right after that, some people from the Scottish Arts Council came through town and they thought it’d be great to have some art at the Edinburgh Festival. And so we put together a show in Scotland and, by then, I was kind of the expert of the contemporary art scene here, after coming from what was almost complete ignorance about art.
And that led, finally, to having a gallery?
I bought a building on Canyon Road and called it Linda Durham Gallery and started showing things. Suddenly, there were artists and people interested in looking at art and talking about art and showing art to one another. The first gallery really was in my house, and then Canyon Road and then two locations in Galisteo and then New York and then on Paseo de Peralta and finally on Second Street.