Sally Ann Freeman

By Victoria Register-Freeman
Resident Community News

The phrase ‘Buy Local’ occurs everywhere now – in shop windows, on bumper stickers, from radio and television pundits and on websites. In the Historic District this phrase might have been coined by Sally Ann Freeman, former Jacksonville resident. Almost a half century ago Freeman was fiercely devoted to the sale of the artwork produced by North Florida’s own painters, and sculptors.

Her journey from Ortega housewife with two children to art entrepreneur began when she took a part time job at the Jacksonville Art Museum located in the Koger Center. Freeman recalls, “I started as a part-time public relations person and eventually became a full time one. One day Rusty Hicken, the Museum director, suggested I open a gallery to display, and hopefully to sell, the work of local artists. It seemed the only gallery selling local art had closed.  He was convinced my years at the museum had given me the background I needed to open a gallery. “I was not so sure.

“One positive sign that I might be able to survive in the business world came when I held a showing for John Bunker at my Apache Street home and all of his paintings sold. I opened the dictionary and found a Spanish or Italian word that meant modern, new, novel. The word was Contemporanea and that is what I called my business, the Gallery Contemporanea.
“The first home for the Gallery was upstairs at Helen Lane’s restored Queen Anne which was then on Park Street. Because of my work at the museum I knew lots of local artists and eventually represented many of them: Marilyn Taylor, Gretchen Ebersol, Allison Watson, Memphis Wood and others. I began to travel to Gainesville and Tallahassee and ended up representing faculty artists and graduate students from both UF and FSU.
“In the early ‘80s I was approached by KBJ architects who were designing the Independent Life building. They wanted an art gallery in the building and Gallery Contemporanea was their choice. John Dyal, Walter Taylor and Taylor Hardwick were the architects who created the physical space for the new gallery. They knew how to create walls that would both support a 400-lb. sculpture and also move to create different floor plans for different exhibits.

“At that gallery, in addition to showcasing local and regional artists, I was able to bring a Smithsonian exhibit of Walter Anderson’s paintings. I was able to get that exhibit because of an earlier local connection. I grew up playing in the Andersons’ home in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Another exhibit I was able to offer Jacksonville was one I titled Women’s Work. It featured art by mothers, teachers, and housekeepers.

“In 1982, to control expenses, I moved the Gallery again. This time I was acting on a dream my grandmother had inserted in my psyche when she told me tales of French Quarter shopkeepers who lived above their stores. I moved from Independent Life to Lancaster Street. My close friends were horrified by the neighborhood which was in decline at that time. A homeless man lived in my garage and Anne Hymen, the Times-Union feature writer, wrote a story about him.

“But it worked out. Geoffrey Brune, an architect, designed the gallery space. I lived upstairs. Janice Young, an interior designer, introduced business leaders to the concept of corporate collections and she introduced me as someone who could help create those collections. The ‘80s were good for art.

“The ‘90s were not. After 18 years on Lancaster Street, I moved the gallery to St. Augustine and eventually closed it. When I return to Jacksonville and drive past Lancaster Street, I remember the receptions, openings, and luncheons I had there to encourage folks to support their local artists. “It was a lot of hard work, but it was a labor of love.”

Editor’s Note: There is no relation between the author and her subject.

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