Richard Michelson, a New Yorker with a ready smile and a Brooklyn twang, started his career in art sales with mobile offerings, selling reproductions out of the back of his van for three years. He set up shop in Northampton in 1979, inhabiting "a little corridor in Thornes Market, eight by fifteen feet."
From there, Michelson's gallery moved to what's now Bueno y Sano on Northampton's Main Street. It had been the loan department of a bank. Eventually the gallery took over the main part of the old bank, an imposing and spacious edifice where it can still be found.
Michelson focuses on representational art, an unusual choice when the gallery began: "The art world was in the midst of the abstract movement. Nobody was paying attention to representational art. Early on, we had serious collectors come up and see our stuff and think, 'Oh, how quaint,' that kind of dismissive attitude. Years later, some of them would come to our gallery and say 'Wow, out here in Northampton they're ahead of the trend!'"
It was equally unorthodox to focus on illustrators, often considered lesser practitioners than their fine art cousins. "I called museums about illustrators, they would hardly take my calls," says Michelson. "You stay around long enough, and it's gratifying to see some of these trends catching on."
Not only is Michelson's gallery a major Main Street presence in Northampton, his artists are part of the Valley as well. "Our current exhibit is Max Standley," Michelson says. "He's one of only two of our 100 artists who don't live in the area. Our first artist was Barry Moser." Michelson also points out the interesting effect of artist Randy Diehl's paintings of diners: "He gave Florence Diner and Nick's Nest a national audience."
This year will bring, among other things, a big Leonard Nimoy exhibit and Michelson's annual children's illustration exhibit.