Tayloe Piggott believes people need art in their lives. By basing her blue-chip art business in this majestic environment, she finds resonance between people’s profound connection with place and the potential to profoundly connect with the art. Both art and nature sustain our souls. As they have hers: A Virginia native, she stopped in Jackson en route to California. Twenty-eight years later, she reflects on the art community as it was, is, and could be. Integral to the aesthetic future of the valley, we applaud the resonance of her resolve to share vanguard art with Jackson and beyond.
People laugh when I tell them I had a hard time deciding between vet school and art school. Having studied interior design a bit, I always loved art and space, and yet, I ultimately chose an academic path toward animals. After school, I set out for San Francisco and drove through Jackson. I thought I might spend a winter here before I landed a serious job. I arrived in October and that first day, met artist Mike Piggott. He had just left Los Angeles and was on his way to New York. We were both in transit.
I fell in love with Jackson that very first weekend—rafting down the Snake River, watching the kayakers at Lunch Counter, hiking in Grand Teton National Park, seeing the sunset at Dornan’s. Truly love at first sight. I stayed for the winter and learned how to ski, and come springtime, I felt I had earned a summer. And one season led to another.
After years of doing different jobs, Mike and I realized that we felt most at home in the local art community. And we knew that for us to maintain a life in Jackson as engaged creative people, we would need to help bring more contemporary culture to the valley. So we opened a frame shop, which quickly became a hub for local artists. They would stop by, drink coffee and talk about art outside of the Western art market. Jackson has always attracted many different types of artists, but back then, galleries didn’t reflect that diversity. Our friends needed a place to show their work, so we started exhibiting local talents alongside established artists. And so, the frame shape evolved into an art gallery. Tapping my early retail experience selling high-end luxury goods, I understood how to the grow the business into interior design and jewelry.
I channeled my passion for beautiful things into pushing the boundaries of what was possible in Jackson. Even now, I find myself constantly testing what the market can hold. I’m often three years ahead of the curve; I spend three years cultivating support for something – be it a new artist or designer – and then I see their work slowly gain acceptance. It’s been a patient process of supporting the community and building relationships with clients who understand my vision. Relationships are what make this business so compelling. Jackson Hole draws intellectual, business-savvy world travelers who know what they love at first sight.
Here, we live in place where so many people are jumping off cliffs for fun; I feel so grateful to be supported by my clients and my community as I jump off cliffs professionally. Jacksonites live with risk. There is so much risk inherent in building a business, in the volatile art world no less. A lot of self-education has taken place. My journey in the art world has revealed how small it ultimately is. Artists introduce me to other artists, as do like-minded galleries. Clients too: They see new work and share their encounters with me. An aesthetic thread connects us all.
Beyond introductions, travel helps me continually broaden my taste. By visiting international art fairs, museums and galleries. I have established an amazing network of other dealers, all of whom have been very supportive. And yet, doing what I do, where I do it is blessing. My clients have forged strong ties to Jackson Hole, and I have been able to be part of that experience. My clients connect deeply to the places where they live and to the artwork they collect.
Jewelry, like art, evokes memories. Having carried jewelry from day one, I consider it another form of connection. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve watching my mother dress for a party: I would dip my hands into her bountiful jewelry box and offer glimmering gems for her to try. I reveled in her witnessing her transformation into a glamorous goddess. Later on, I’d listen for her return, signaled by the delicate jingling of her charm bracelet. I’d pretend to be asleep as she leaned over me, an angel awash in Shalimar perfume, and kissed me good night. Forevermore, jewelry has symbolized such beautiful memories. Similarly, art and memory are inextricably linked for me: My first experience with art was visiting my grandmother and always finding her in favorite chair with her favorite painting on the wall behind her. That artwork is an integral part of my memories of sitting on her lap, ensconced in happiness. Yes, art and jewelry are luxury items, but they are crucial to our emotional connections. I do believe people need art in their lives. Art tells the story of our time, the diary of our lives and our culture. Why did a person buy that painting at that point in their life? Collecting becomes part of their personal journey. It becomes a passion. Memories accumulate with each thoughtful acquisition. Art is a milestone that can be shared, not just with relatives and friends. It becomes the expression of a particular generation. It becomes part of a community. For me, the element of community makes the risk worth it. I feel better knowing perhaps the community will benefit from my leaps of faith. Without a contemporary art museum in Jackson, I hope to fill a bit of that role.
My art form is the curatorial side—how an exhibition comes together, how each piece is presented, how working with an artist over years makes the work all the more profound, how the vocabulary is expressed. When a work is installed in a home, it becomes part of that family’s conversation. I am grateful to my clients for trusting me to introduce new pieces into that intimate space. I can see what they need, and how a work might amplify their lives. I love the process of placement. That’s where my visual art comes in.
Above all, I believe in good painting—these days, it’s almost a lost art form. And I believe good painting can be found across the price spectrum. I’m always searching for virtuosic painters. I’m not swayed by recognition. It doesn’t matter to me who represents who; all that matters is that the painting represents a highly skilled hand. There are so many artists out there who are extremely talented but have yet to be discovered. I try to achieve a balance among the artists I bring onboard, a balance between established and emerging artists. Every day, I want to look at the walls of my gallery and feel good about the work and the artist we represent. I want to feel at peace in the space I’ve created.
My current exhibition, Beyond by Paul Villinski, epitomizes the many levels on which I work. It’s a good example of taking a risk: These are not easy pieces to place because they are so large and they thus require large spaces. Beyond is as much about offering the community the opportunity to see contemporary grand-scale work as it is about showing a museum-quality exhibition. Ambitious in scope, it shows that we, as a gallery, are standing on our own two feet: We believe in what we are doing, we believe artists should be able to make this kind of work, regardless of its marketability.
This exhibition is not just about selling art. It’s about supporting an artist in his need to create. Paul had to make this work. He couldn’t hold back, particularly if he wants to evolve into the best he can be. It is my job, my duty to allow artists to explore their creativity, to encourage them as they go for it. When I’m working with an artist on a large-scale exhibition like Beyond, there’s always an “Oh dear” moment. “Oh dear, this is going to cost a fortune,” or “Oh dear, the shipping is going to be outrageous.” In those moments, I remind myself: “Dammit, we have to do this.” The artist has been given a vision. The artist has to get it out. It’s my responsibility to make sure the public gets to experience that as a collective leap of faith, as a communal dialogue on pushing the limits of creativity. This body of work builds on a show Paul did several years ago in Jackson. It elicits such an incredible emotional response from all ages: A baby came in the other day, barely a year old, and his eyes were as big as saucers and he was pointing wildly at everything with such absolute awe. Days later, an elderly gentleman stopped by and spent an hour with the work. He left in tears, saying, “That was one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen.” That’s when I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, when we, as a gallery, are doing exactly what we should. When it means something to people.