Taking an arty gamble

La Cañada might not be known as gallery row, but that isn’t stopping Michael Humphries from trying to expand the art offerings in the foothills.

Humphries’ gallery, which bears his name and opened just five months ago in the 800 block of Foothill Blvd., will unveil a new exhibit titled “Heart and Soul” on Feb. 4. Humphries is hoping to entice the community to see his works, and that of local artist Trish Kertes. So far, he says that it’s not clear if La Cañada can support a new gallery or not, but there are positive signs.

“I’m not sure how conducive [La Cañada] is to a gallery,” Humphries said. “We’re still trying to get our feet wet. We’ve only had two shows … and they were both pretty successful.”

The upcoming show will feature landscapes in oil, acrylic and watercolor from Humphries, and plein air oil landscapes from Kertes.

When the Michael Humphries Gallery opened last fall, it joined the city’s smattering of galleries, including Descanso Garden’s Sturt Haaga Gallery, which opened just last September, and two established businesses, Stephanie’s Art Gallery and Penelope’s Café, Books and Gallery.

Humphries said that after more than 30 years in the animation industry, he was ready to take the leap.

“I’ve always been kind of a fine artist and illustrator back and forth, and one of my long-time desires has been to have my own gallery,” he said.

A teacher at Art Center College of Design for six years, Humphries moved with his family to Pasadena from Studio City a year ago, and soon after he and his wife, Heidi, discovered La Cañada.

“La Cañada had such a great community feel to it,” he said. “We really enjoy that laid-back quality La Cañada seems to have, opposed to some of the other cities around here.”

Still, that quality has presented Humphries with a challenge when it comes to pulling in traffic for the gallery.

“We knew there wasn’t going to be a ton of foot traffic at this location … so we need to get people to notice us,” he said. “The best way to do that is to have the shows, so we’re trying to do as many shows as we can.”

Kertes agreed, saying filling a gallery in a town where most people stay in their cars can be problematic.

“For some reason, La Cañada is not a strolling place, people don’t just come out in the early evening and walk along Foothill Boulevard and visit the various businesses, but I’m wondering if we might be able to move in that direction,” she said.

Kertes, a La Cañadan, said the chance to show her art locally after 35 years of painting is a welcome change. Her work is mostly shown in Monrovia, San Fernando and Big Bear.

“It’s really a dream come true for me, because I do have a few other places that I show my art, but they’re not in my community,” she said.

Sue Stranger, head of the La Cañada Merchant Connection, said that she was hoping to encourage this sort of gallery-friendly pedestrian traffic with an art walk the first Friday of each month, starting regularly in March.

Stranger said that she thought Humphries was making the right move by bringing a local artist like Kertes for a show.

“I think he’s on the right track by bringing in other local artists, because they’ll bring in their customers,” she said.

There’s no guarantee that local customers are interested in supporting the arts, however. Lawrence Moss, co-owner of Penelope’s, said that although the art was an important part of the business, he didn’t think the local market for art was very strong.

“People don’t want to spend money on art in this city,” he said. “I think most people that have some financial resolve seem to think that they maybe should spend it somewhere else than their hometown.”

Still, Humphries isn’t the only one who sees an opportunity for art in La Cañada. Stranger said that Christine Stilson, another former animator, is planning to open a gallery called Voyager on Foothill at Gould Avenue on Feb. 25.

And Moss said that although it might be an uphill battle, he certainly supports Humphries’ efforts.

“You never know, you might sell one piece that will pay the rent for three months,” he said. “I think it’s worth a try.”

”Heart and Soul” opens Feb. 4th with a reception at 5 p.m. at the Michael Humphries Gallery, located at 829 Foothill Blvd., (818) 790-7611.

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