After more than 30 years, Mary McGowan will retire from her position as head of McGowan Fine Art. She leaves behind a gallery in very capable hands and a legacy of art appreciation in the state.
In the late 1970s, McGowan was a silversmith who made jewelry. Many of her friends were artists, and she soon discovered they were selling more of their work out of state than in state.
“I thought there should be some way to make it work,” McGowan said.
One night McGowan told her husband, an architect, that he should fill his new buildings with the crafts of local artists, according to Sarah Chaffee, who will replace McGowan as the head of the gallery. McGowan’s husband told her she should do it, according to Chaffee. And so she did.
McGowan said in the beginning, in the ’80s, she did corporate consulting and sold works to businesses and banks. Along the way she realized people wanted to buy art for themselves as well. She was doing her framing in Manchester but decided to create a one-stop shop.
“It evolved into an art gallery,” McGowan said.
It happened slowly, according to Chaffee, the only way it could have: with McGowan dragging people along with her.
“She really pushed people to value art,” Chaffee said. “She really got people to understand the importance of art.”
In the process, she created a special bond between the gallery and the artists whose works they sold. During this most recent economic downturn, Chaffee said artists would call her regularly to see how the gallery was doing, just as she would call them to see how they were managing.
Chaffee began working there in 1997, after interviewing for the position three separate times over the years. “Finally, Mary broke down and hired me,” Chaffee said. “We quickly found out it was a match made in heaven.”
Chaffee said McGowan was the type of boss who let her employees run with an idea. This trust helped create defined roles. Over the years, McGowan has remained the head of corporate consulting, while Chaffee ran the gallery end, which said made her like an office manager. McGowan said she would miss the day-to-day interaction with clients but felt confident in Chaffee and Amanda McGowan Lacasse (no relationship), who has been with the gallery since 2007.
McGowan has anticipated her retirement, which is why she has had Chaffee act as the public face of the company for the last few years. She hoped this proactive approach would lead to a seamless transition.
As for herself, she has no immediate plans. She said she has been working since she graduated from college and plans to take some time to relax. McGowan said she would travel a bit but wouldn’t go far because she loves her community and will continue to be involved.
McGowan said she’s always had an interest in the arts and many of her friends are artists; she also liked problem solving — which was a good thing because there were many problems over the years. McGowan weathered them all. The timing of her retirement is no coincidence. She wanted to be around as the gallery came through the recent economic recession and McGowan feels like it will, which is why she is now free to step down.
While McGowan may be gone, she will certainly not be forgotten. When she began her gallery, artists and buyers used to leave New Hampshire for other states. Now it is common for people from other states to come to New Hampshire looking for art. McGowan said the increased use of the Internet has certainly helped New Hampshire in that regard. As more and more artists have realized they can make a living staying here, the quality of work has really gone up, according to Chaffee.
Those are but a few of the many changes McGowan has witnessed. She said in the beginning she used to consult with banks now she spends more time with healthcare facilities, hotels and law firms.
“It has been an evolution,” McGowan said.
For her part, Chaffee said not much would change. She said McGowan Fine Art has always tried to be innovative and to look ahead and that will continue under her watch. But the gallery will never forget where it has come from and who brought it to where it is today.