Selflessness isn’t usually something people advertise. It’s not like people who are generous and compassionate wear their virtue on their sleeves. But these are people we need. They help …
Selflessness isn’t usually something people advertise. It’s not like people who are generous and compassionate wear their virtue on their sleeves. But these are people we need. They help bolster the belief in a world that can still turn on kindness, humanity and charity. It is for these reasons each year we recognize the Unsung Heroes in our community, and why art gallery owner and artist Rob Nightingale is one of those acknowledged.
Nightingale is owner of Wilder Nightingale Fine Art at 119 Kit Carson Road. If you don’t know him, the assumption that an art gallery owner might not necessarily be known as an unsung hero may cross your mind. But those who do have his acquaintance and who have benefited from his kindness know different.
One of the annual events Nightingale puts together is the “Hearts and Stars” exhibit of small works. The show is one of the best received and hotly anticipated events in Taos. The reason is that it is an opportunity to purchase beautiful works of art — but more importantly it serves as a benefit for the homeless in Taos.
“We had four guys and one of them had been on the streets for a while,” former Taos Men’s Shelter Director Jeff Sattler said in a February 2015 Taos News story about the shelter’s opening night. “I keep a couple of winter coats in the back of my car in case I run into somebody. He put that coat on and you would think he had gotten a bicycle for Christmas. He was the happiest guy alive and probably warm for the first time in a month.”
The “Hearts and Stars” benefit was started by Nightingale seven years ago when the brother of Michelle Chrisman, one of the artists in his gallery, wound up homeless in Denver, freelance writer Nikki Lyn Pugh reported. As Nightingale recalled, that winter was an especially cold one for Taos and a couple of local men died as a result of having no place to go. These factors became the catalyst for Nightingale and Chrisman to organize the first “Hearts and Stars” event.
“A few people in the past have questioned why I was doing it,” Nightingale said at the time about “Hearts and Stars." “[For me], it is about getting rid of the stigma [and] the judgment.”
When told this year he was named an Unsung Hero, Nightingale quipped, “I don’t get it … I thought, ‘Why me?’ ” But, he acknowledged that he thought it “was nice … but, there are just other people that do so much more.”
Doing good in the community isn’t so much a matter of setting out to do something philanthropic. In some ways, Nightingale said it’s just the right thing to do. “If I can help, I’ll help as much as I can,” he said. “I don’t want to tackle something and find something that needs to be done and take over and [say] it’s all about me. But, if there’s ‘Hearts and Stars’ — which is what we did with Michelle Chrisman, we’ll say, ‘Well, let’s try something.’ ”
His motivation also comes from something personal that happened some years ago. “In one aspect, I lost my home. Made a bad investment in a real estate situation in 2008. It was a condo with a lot of assessments and being a self-employed person I did not have a guaranteed income. It all just imploded. And, in a sense, I was homeless, not to the extent of other homeless people. I had a good friend who opened up her home and let me stay with her through the winter so I could get back on my feet and snap out of that experience. I think that happened right around the time the show started. It was a traumatic experience.”
Although it was relatively a minor brush, the idea of homelessness struck home, as it were. “It can happen to anybody.” That was the thought that stuck with him.
Wilder Nightingale Fine Art is one of the oldest galleries along Kit Carson Road and has regularly placed first or second in the “Best Gallery” category in our Best of Taos Reader’s Survey over the years. The man and his gallery have become Taos fixtures and rightfully so, according to an article written by special sections editor Scott Gerdes.
"I never thought I'd be a business owner," Nightingale shared, surrounded by all of the colors, shadows, scenes and shapes hanging on the walls. "It just happened. I just kept with it."
Nightingale penned in his online blog that he studied art at Columbia College in Chicago. After graduating, he said he was thrust into the workforce, but not into the art world. “After several years of discontent I visited a high school friend who had moved to Taos,” he wrote. "I liked it. I liked the variety of art. I liked the whole place. I went home, quit my job, packed up the car and moved to Taos. I got a job at a local gallery and met a new friend and we decided to open our own gallery. After 15 years I acquired the gallery."
Wilder Nightingale Fine Art represents over 35 Taos and regional artists. The works are eclectic. From traditional Taos landscapes in oil, pastel and watercolor, the gallery also offers a selection of contemporary and abstract styles. Leading artists such as Peggy Immel, Michelle Chrisman, BJ Briner, Valerie Graves, Jim Barker, Rory Wagner and Stephen Day make this gallery a must see when visiting Taos.
Wilder Nightingale Fine Art has been written up in Art & Antiques, Cowboys and Indians, Southwest Art, Taos Magazine and The Santa Fean.
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