Rob Nightingale sits comfortably on an overstuffed couch in his gallery, Wilder Nightingale Fine Art on historic Kit Carson Road, and greets visitors in his relaxed and amiable manner. He prefers to let people walk around at their leisure, soaking in all of the art, as opposed to pouncing on them.
He also calmly greets Theo, a Siamese cat who saunters into the space from somewhere in the back. About four years ago, the friendly feline showed up at his back door and decided the gallery would be a good home. She's named for his mother, because "They both look over me." It doesn't hurt that Theo is also good for sales.
The women in Nightingale's life have been instrumental. His gallery is named for his maternal grandmother's last name (Wilder) and Nightingale is his last name.
"They were so encouraging and supportive of my art studies," he says of his grandmother and mother. Nightingale studied to be an oil painter in his hometown at Columbia College of Chicago. But after graduating, Nightingale didn't pick up a brush very often and instead found himself working in "nonart-related retail."
It was in 1990 while he was visiting a high school friend who lived in Taos when his path took a turn. Still passionate and drawn to art, he quickly noticed how art-centric Taos is. He landed a job with a gallery. After ending employment there, he and a friend opened a gallery of their own on Sept. 30, 1991. He eventually bought her out and never looked back.
Wilder Nightingale Fine Art is one of the oldest galleries in town and has regularly placed first or second in the "Best Gallery" category over the years. The man and his gallery have become Taos fixtures, and rightfully so.
"I never thought I'd be a business owner," Nightingale shares surrounded by all of the colors, shadows, scenes and shapes hanging on the walls. "It just happened. I just kept with it."
The first piece of art he sold was a painting by Stephen Day, who has been with the gallery since its inception. Wilder Nightingale Fine Art has been a shining beacon for the talent in Taos ever since. Of the more than 35 artists he represents, a large percentage of them are local. And if they aren't local, they are at the very least regional — "within southern Colorado driving distance."
Nightingale "wisely" chooses who he represents; "Big egos need not apply," he stresses. Like Day, many of his artists have been with the gallery since the beginning. And if an artist happens to get exclusive representation from a larger gallery in a larger city, he encourages them.
And even though Taos is a small town, running a gallery in this competitive art market is no walk in the park. He admits it's an "economic roller coaster," but adds, "I must like it because I'm still here."
Well, that and he loves Taos, especially its "small town feel."
Being a gallery owner is especially challenging, he says, when trying to think of different ways to promote artists. And Nightingale does more than give local artists exposure and income; as much as he can, he contributes to the community — often in the form of fundraisers for causes such as the Taos Men's Shelter.
He's started to paint again more often these days, gravitating toward nighttime scenes at the time of this interview. His work is typically wrapped in polarity because while he likes all kinds of artistic styles, contrast is his favorite.
Wilder Nightingale Fine Art
119 Kit Carson Rd.