Meet Your Merchant: Lilly Vigil Gallery celebrates its 30th anniversary
Lilly Vigil Gallery
214 Broad St.
Hours: Closed tues/wed.
Open Thursday through Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The vivid colors and memories of Lilly Vigil’s early childhood have become the backdrop of her life. Born in the small town of Socorro, N.M., her grandfather lived in a 200-year-old adobe home, and her father built his own.
She grew up hearing the stories of her ancestors, who were Apache, Pueblo and early Spanish settlers. She remembers admiring the Navajo rugs and pottery that adorned her grandparents’ home.
When Vigil was just five years old, her father moved the family to San Francisco, yet she continued to spend summers in Socorro with her grandfather, who was the sheriff of the small town situated in the Rio Grande Valley.
As an adult, Vigil had a successful career in Silicon Valley, but didn’t truly enjoy the corporate life.
“I’d always, always been interested in Native American art — I’d been painting since I was a kid,” she said. “Over the years I’d thought it would be great to own an art gallery. But when I did the research, I learned that galleries were second only to restaurants when it came to failure rates.”
Nonetheless, Vigil finally decided to follow her passion. In 1985, she moved to Nevada City and opened her gallery at the same time.
“I waited until the timing was right — I made the break and was determined to make it work,” she said. “It was a crazy year — I worked seven days a week. But it was truly a labor of love, not a hardship. I still love it.”
On Saturday, Lilly Vigil Gallery will be celebrating its 30th anniversary with a reception and featured artists. Known for her longtime support and loyalty to artists, Vigil has artists who have sold their work in her gallery for two to three decades.
“I’m the type that stays with a good thing,” she said. “I don’t go through a lot of artists. I like to support their evolution over the years. Some have become super famous, and one now has a piece at the Smithsonian. Some have become internationally known and I can’t carry their art any more — their prices are way too high. But I love supporting artists and helping them become successful.”
In addition to a passion for art, Vigil says she’s always had good eye. When she first opened her gallery, a man from Colorado came in and asked if he could show Vigil his Native American paintings. Thirty years later, she’s still selling his art.
Over the years, the gallery has become recognized for unparalleled quality of artistic and cultural treasures, focusing on fine Native American art. The gallery also specializes in originals, graphics, sculptors and exquisite jewelry from local, regional and national artists.
“But I can’t label the gallery entirely Native American,” she said. “I also feature contemporary and abstract art.”
In the early years, Vigil traveled widely in search of quality Native American and art of the “old west,” but these days her national — and international — reputation is such that artists come to her. Most recently, her trips have been limited to Santa Fe, where she visits with established artists.
At Saturday’s anniversary celebration, featured artists will include Craig Martinez, Rachelle Montoya, Daniel Vigil, Sergio Martinez, Jim Lee, Jack Alvarez and Betsy Lombard.
Looking toward the future, Vigil — who now has eight grandchildren — says she has no intention of slowing down.
“I love what I do — the most rewarding part has been my interaction with the artists,” she said. “It’s still exciting to me, and still interesting. Art is my world. Every time I walk into the gallery I’m reminded how blessed I am to do something I love.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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