Three years ago, Hayley Sykes and her husband Brett moved out of their cramped, 700-foot square apartment in Alexandria into a far more spacious house they purchased in Fauquier County. That’s when she started to think it was about time to fulfill one of her singular life goals.
“For three years, I just got sick and tired of hearing myself say ‘one of these days I’m going to open an art gallery,’ ” she said recently, sitting at her desk in — where else? — the cozy art gallery she launched last September in The Plains.
It’s called Dwell Fine Art and Craft. It’s located in a building just behind The Front Porch restaurant that used to house an office owned and occupied by local real estate agent Chris Malone.
“I liked the building and I liked the location,” Sykes said. “And Chris said he would move somewhere else. He’s passionate about people coming into The Plains and doing these sorts of things. I’ve always liked small towns. I grew up in Yorkshire (England). It’s been a perfect fit.”
Sykes has refurbished the relatively small interior, and she’s planning to utilize as much wall space as possible, including a mini-gallery she’s going to call “The Powder Room,” because that’s exactly what it is, sink, toilet and all, including art on display.
Sykes said she was always drawing when she was a child and started her undergraduate degree at John Moores University in Liverpool, where she studied fashion and textiles. She dropped out after two years to join the working world as a recruiter, and once was hired by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to help him find a suitable housekeeper for his home in London.
“I told him I wouldn’t do it unless I could see his house first,” she said. “And it worked.”
She came to the U.S. in 2006, enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to study art history and graduated four years later at the age of 30, all while still working part-time as a corporate recruiter. While at VCU, she also had an internship with the Paul Mellon collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, a wonderful experience she still cherishes.
These days, it’s almost total immersion in the gallery, but Sykes still does some recruiting work to help pay the bills. She also represents a number of artists, some in Richmond, some in this area, and also does art consulting, helping clients find just the right piece for their homes or offices.
She still dabbles as an artist herself and is trying to learn “encaustic” work, a very early art form that uses translucent heated beeswax with pigments of color instead of paint.
“I’ve bought a kit and some books,” she said, “but I’m focused on the gallery right now; my artists need my attention.”
As for her personal preferences in art, Sykes says, “My tastes are all over the place. I’m not a fan of hyper-realism nor very traditional work. I’m not a fan of hunting scenes. If I think something is of high quality, I’m always interested. But I want to be able to take some risks, take artists who are not in the mainstream.
“I have to like the artist, too. If you have someone you don’t like, it just won’t work.”
And why did she name the gallery “Dwell?”
“I truly believe that art in any style should be lived with and not hidden away,” Sykes said. “I wanted to create an environment that represented talented, living artists and that also felt domestic, not austere.”
Every six to eight weeks, Sykes offers a new exhibition in the gallery. It might be a single artist, or perhaps two or three. In December, she’s planning an exhibit called “Small Wonders,” with smaller works from multiple artists, all priced under $500. Typically, prices in the gallery range from $1,000 to $3,000, with larger works going between $4,000 and $7,000.
“The whole concept is you don’t need an art history degree to see what you like and you don’t like,” she said. “I want a variety of sizes, styles and prices. Other galleries have even told me I should raise my prices. I’m not listening.”
These days, she does hear plenty of footsteps coming through Dwell’s door to look at -- and occasionally purchase -- works she displays.
“I like the town, I get a lot of traffic and I’ve even picked up some consulting clients,” she said. “I have wonderful neighbors, and in this community, everyone helps to promote everyone else. I’m very happy here.”
Reach Len Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org