Best of both the art and antique worlds

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Pittsburgh entrepreneur Melanie Werner has the best of both worlds.

When the Sewickley art and antiquities collector opened her first gallery in her Sewickley Village town home in 2002, she did so as an extension of her passion for European paintings.

She collected them from various locations all over Europe, but primarily in Paris where she and her husband, Eric, have maintained an apartment for several years.

That gallery has now grown to two, with the first in her family’s newly built mansion on Sewickley’s Beaver Street, and the second on Ellsworth Avenue, in Shadyside, which opened late last year.
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Elegant oil paintings line the gallery walls of Werner’s Pittsburgh, Penn., locations.

Although such growth signifies success, it also reflects a growing trend of antique and art collectors turning hobbies into businesses despite the sluggish economy. With more art lovers and antique collectors going into business nowadays, the number of U.S. firms without paid employees rose 20.4 million in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s 78 percent of the nation’s 26 million businesses. This category of “non-employer’’ businesses, which often are part-time ventures, generated more than $950 billion in revenue in 2005.

“It’s the American dream,” said Werner, owner of Galerie Werner. “People have a desire to be in control of their own destinies.’’

The number of non-employer businesses grew by 25.5 percent from 2000 to 2006, according to the National Association for the Self-Employed. That’s more than triple the rate of businesses with employees, which grew by only 7.6 percent during that same period.

Still, Werner doesn’t think people should quit their day jobs until they have a solid business base.

She said the real success of her antiquities and art business has resulted from participating in art fairs. For example, internationally promoted events, high art and antiques fairs and shows draw a well-traveled, monied clientele. So, naturally, it’s a draw for many galleries.

Pittsburgh’s own version of such an event was the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Annual Antiques Show. Now defunct, this well-attended exhibition and sale brought together more than 50 art and antiques dealers from around the country every year. Galerie Werner exhibited at the last, which was two years ago. That’s where Werner met the staff of Spanierman Gallery of New York City, and decided the galleries should collaborate on a show.

Werner AT 2-13.jpg“We garnered so much interest from the antiques show, that we decided to put our own show together,’’ Werner said.

Melanie Werner in her Pittsburgh gallery.

The exhibit, “European & American Paintings: 19th to 20th Century Fine Art,” features more than 100 paintings and some antique furniture that span a century starting in 1840. The show ran through January 2008.
Overall they presented a wide selection of styles and motifs popular in Europe and the United States during that time, ranging from Romantic realism to post-impressionism.

Divided between both Galerie Werner locations, the exhibit showcased the late 19th century works at the Sewickley location and the more contemporary works at the Shadyside location to pique the interest of both the baby boomer generation and the emerging “tween generation.’’

Fans of Pittsburgh painting were thrilled to find several works by legendary steel mill painter Aaron Harry Gorson (1872-1933) at both locations. They ranged from smaller detailed works like The Burn Off to much larger, expressive works as Mills at Night on the Monongahela in Pittsburgh.

Galerie Werner exhibits mostly European works, which is the gallery’s mainstay, with an emphasis on French impressionist and post-impressionist. Many are from Europe’s most notable artists including Jules Dupre (1811-89), Gregaire Michonze (1902-82) and Jules Rene Herve (1887-1981). There are also a few pieces by American artists in the gallery collection including a signature work by Daniel Ridgeway Knight (1839-1924) titled Sur La Terrasse and a magnificent landscape by Western Pennsylvania’s own George Hetzel (1826-1906).

“What’s really special about my gallery is that I use parts of my home to showcase the works in such a way that people can really see how they fit in a home setting,” said Werner. “It has always been my goal to combine my passion for fine, old works with a seamless exhibition that will appeal to a new age of collectors.’’

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