Local Arts

KNOW: Longtime Charlotte art gallery owner calls an end to that career to become ... an artist

Christie Taylor in Ireland.
Christie Taylor in Ireland. Courtesy of Christie Taylor

A mutual friend encouraged 20-something Christie Taylor to call Dot Hodges and propose a business partnership.

It was 1980. The two had never met, and Hodges was 17 years older than Taylor — and also was one of the most prominent people in Charlotte’s whole cultural scene.

But Taylor made the call, beginning with a formal “Mrs. Hodges, this is Christie Taylor.” They both laugh at that now.

“The best business decision I ever made was making that phone call,” Taylor said. “We didn’t know each other, so there was no history to get in our way. We both loved art; that was enough.”

Taylor, 67, officially retired from Hodges Taylor Dec. 31, but she’d been easing her way out of day-to-day management for several years – ever since she found an heir she and Hodges, who retired about eight years ago, trusted. Lauren Harkey, 32, who’d been working with Taylor for the last three years, took over as 2019 began.

So now Taylor pursues a dream.

“There’s a theory that we’re our most authentic selves at 6,” she said. “So, whatever you wanted to be when you were 6 is probably what you’ve found a way to become. Maybe not literally ... If you wanted to be a firefighter, you may not be that exactly, but you probably help people in crisis.”

When Taylor, a Queens University alumna, won the school’s BusinessWoman of the Year award in 2005, she was asked to give a talk. “I wondered what I could teach MBA students,” she said. Then it hit her: She’d ask about childhood career goals.

One student recalled wanting to own a ranch out West because she loved the sky. Today, she owns an aviation company. “She gasped when she made the connection,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s childhood dream was to make art. She’s been doing more of that since she and her partner, Freddy Sprock, moved to 34 acres along Maryland’s eastern shore six years ago. She’s divided her time between Charlotte and Maryland ever since.

She has two goals in retirement: “To be an artist and an athlete – and not with capital A’s.”

She’s already succeeded at both. She recently returned from a second fellowship at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in North County Mayo, Ireland; her paintings are at christietaylorpaintings.com. And in September, she came in first in her age group and eighth overall in a sprint triathlon.

(She’d won prizes before — including a blue ribbon for her “A Day at the Circus” when she was just a little older than 6. She had a unique perspective even then. Most kids would draw the action taking place inside the circus ring; Taylor painted smiling faces in the stands.)

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Christie Taylor’s 6-year-old artist self saw the circus differently. Courtesy of Christie Taylor

Harkey, who became coming to the gallery as a high school student just to “talk art” before becoming a lawyer, plans to keep the name Hodges Taylor.

“People ask if I’m going to add my name, and I say: ‘Three last names means it’s a law firm, so no.’ These two women’s names command respect and convey warmth.”

And the brand has been 40 years in the making. It began in a little spot in Latta Arcade that rented for $300 a month. It later took a prime space in the Transamerica building uptown before moving to its current Dilworth location.

Its focus in the early days, and the focus Harkey intends to maintain: Southeastern artists.

In the ‘80s, talented Southeastern artists felt they had to move to New York to be taken seriously, Hodges said. She recalled lamenting to artist Peter Plajens (former chair of the art department at UNC Chapel Hill and now the Wall Street Journal’s art critic) that museums weren’t paying enough attention to Southeastern artists. His reply? “It is your job to make them so important that museums can’t afford to ignore them.”

So Hodges Taylor became Charlotte’s first art gallery that didn’t have a frame-shop component, she said: They had to sell paintings —since they weren’t selling anything else. “We had to create and nurture the market. At the time, people hung prints in their homes. There wasn’t an appreciation for original artwork.”

While Hodges Taylor helped some of Charlotte’s biggest organizations (including blue-chip law firms and the Levine Children’s Hospital) build their art collections, Taylor encouraged everyone she met, too, to nurture their creative side.

She calls those conversations “creative interventions.”

When Hodges Taylor was hired to curate the corporate art collection of North Carolina National Bank (now Bank of America), Taylor brought paper and crayons to a meeting with executives and asked them to draw something. The only woman executive in the room was willing to doodle, but the men wouldn’t – or couldn’t – do it, she recalled.

“You have to be vulnerable to be an artist,” Taylor said. Not everyone is willing.

As a gallerist, Taylor particularly loved introducing people to abstract art.

“Christie believes everyone can access something in a work of art,” Harkey said. And she is “gracefully democratic. She’s often said: No one is greater than anyone else in the presence of a great work of art.”

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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Christie Taylor, of Hodges Taylor, in Ireland. Courtesy of Christie Taylor