When Sharla Throckmorton-McDowell and husband Michael McDowell opened Pop Gallery (125 Lincoln Ave. #111, 820-0788) in 2007, they had no way of knowing the following year would herald one of the worst recessions in American history. Collectors cooled their jets and any number of arts retail spaces around the country shut down or faced leaner months than they ever had. But Pop, with its more casual atmosphere in a Santa Fe sea of museum-esque galleries, thrived. It gave something new to the scene. Besides, Throckmorton-McDowell says, they'd probably have opened the space anyway.
"2008 was completely challenging," she says, "but it wasn't hard finding art that needed to be seen in Santa Fe."
The mission was to provide a space for pop art, new-brow, lowbrow, surrealism and all points in between, and to create a gallery that could potentially spark a love of visual arts in young people, a segment perennially underserved in Santa Fe. Between the two of them, Throckmorton-McDowell and McDowell had a pedigree that included stints at the Chuck Jones Gallery, Seret and Sons, Mountain Trails Gallery and elsewhere, and with the shared eye they'd developed over time and, according to Throckmorton-McDowell, a strong response from the community, Pop was a hit.
"We were seeing a lot of changes [before the opening] in 2007, and the question we asked ourselves was, did we want to work for someone else, or did we want to work for ourselves?" Throckmorton-McDowell tells SFR. "There were a lot of artists we had our eye on who had always wanted to be represented in Santa Fe, and our vision allowed us to be one of the only galleries willing to give wall space to emerging artists."
Over the years, Pop has shown the likes of Stephane Martiniere, Max Lehman and Kate Samuels, as well as big names in local art such as Rose B. Simpson, Brandon Maldonado and tattooer/Best of Santa Fe 2018 cover artist Marie Sena back when they were just getting started.
"I've shown with Pop for many years now, and I've continued to show there because, to me, Pop is a Santa Fe icon," Sena tells SFR. "As an artist who grew up in Santa Fe, Pop was the one of the very first galleries I saw that was taking real risks and representing artists who were out of the mainstream—to someone like me, they were magnetic."
Local representation, however, was not a dedicated aspect of the mission—if locals were shown at Pop, it was because they had talent, not an arbitrary address.
"I get 100 submissions a month, and it was more like looking for a cohesive thread of talent," Throckmorton-McDowell explains. "It wasn't targeted, it really was just bringing on people we felt were strong and giving them a chance. We don't have a demographic."
It all comes down to a gut feeling.
"My crystal ball doesn't work and never has, but a lot of it is just intuition and seeing what people are calling for," Throckmorton-McDowell says. "I'm not just here to make a living with my family, which is important, but it's…having a level of respect and presence is part of the reason Pop is still here."
How that'll look over the next 13 years isn't clear just yet, though Pop will continue its group and solo shows, including the annual Pop Femme exhibit for women artists. Additionally, Throckmorton-McDowell's son Rowan, 15, has started to take an interest in the family business and spends time working as a gallery aide.
"It's going to be exciting to see what comes up in 2020," Throckmorton-McDowell adds. "It's going to be strong."