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Carrying on Peggy Lanning's Legacy

Peggy Lanning, 84-year-old doyenne of Sedona’s art scene for more than four decades, has sold her two galleries (Lanning Gallery and Turquoise Tortoise Gallery) to Thomas Nagel and Jennifer Bryant Nagel. The galleries are located in HOZHO, on SR 179 just south of the roundabout by Tlaquepaque—and easily identifiable by Dixie Jewett’s monumental horse sculpture that stands in the courtyard. The official celebration and welcome will take place on 1st Friday, October 6.

Peggy Lanning is stepping into retirement with her characteristically contagious love of life and art. “I spend time each day being grateful for the life I have been offered. I would not change one thing. I love all my artists. I love my staff. I love life. It was just time to get things organized.” Recently, she has been rejoicing over the young couple who are taking over her two galleries. “I was looking for youth; progressive, contemporary ideas; and the willingness to carry on what I started and yet make the necessary changes for the galleries to succeed and live on. I am here to tell you that I believe with all my heart that the galleries are in good hands. Every time I see Jennifer and Thomas, I like them even better. Isn’t it wonderful to think that?”

Dr. Jennifer Bryant Nagel (an Instructor of English at Northern Arizona University) and Thomas Nagel (a photographer and businessman with an operations background) both have a passion for the arts—they believe that the arts are an expression of our humanity—and a respect for Peggy and the businesses she has created. “We made it very clear that we want to build on her foundation. Peggy is an institution in Sedona, and we feel that we have her blessing, which is huge,” says Thomas. “We both agree that the strength of the galleries is based on the strength of the art and staff. We are keeping the five-member staff, and, for the most part, we are keeping the same artists,” adds Jennifer. “We are not going in any kind of radical new direction.”

In fact, Jennifer and Peggy have a special bond: They both admire the work of one particular painter—Alfred Rogoway. One might even say that the Lanning Gallery owes its existence and survival to Rogoway, an abstract expressionist, whose soulful work depicts his feelings, impressions, and dreams.

The year was 1987.

Alfred Rogoway (Rog) walked into the Turquoise Tortoise Gallery and asked Peggy to represent him. “I love your work but I can’t represent you because my gallery features Native American and Southwestern work,” Peggy recalls. “Rog simply said, ‘But I like you. You are who I would like to show with.’”

Lanning’s admiration for Rog the man and the artist was so strong that within a few weeks she secured gallery space across the hall from the Turquoise Tortoise Gallery to display his work. She “motored” her jeep to a storeroom south of Tucson to pick up eight paintings, with which she opened the Lanning Gallery, along with the work of master jeweler Michael Grant and the mythic painter Bill Rane. “Rog was so deep and so entertaining. We just hit it off right from the beginning.”

The mystical connection between Peggy and Rog continued through the years, with the price tag of his work soaring in a way that made him feel valued and appreciated. One evening in 1990, as Peggy was getting ready to break through a wall to expand the gallery, she felt compelled to take her favorite Rogoway piece—Mother and Michael—home. She had been paying on it for several months and felt it would be all right to finally remove it from the gallery. “Once home, I got my little stepladder out and hung that painting. It looked just beautiful in my dining room on a wall by itself, and I have never moved it from that spot. That night, between 11 pm and midnight, Rog died.

Fast forward to 2017.

Jennifer and Thomas Nagel decide to meet with Peggy because they heard her galleries were on the market. Being the art lovers that they are, they had visited the galleries before, and these had stood out as being among Sedona’s finest.

But on this visit, they came to view the collections more critically. “What drew me in [at the Lanning Gallery] was Alfred Rogoway’s work,” notes Jennifer. In particular, it was the painting Tender Moments, whose subject is a mother and child. “When you see it, everything else becomes blurry. It speaks to you. It has a soft, soft quality. . . . I think it was that moment of seeing the painting that was my moment. . . . Rogoway could be hanging in any major modernist gallery in the world and not be out of place.

“Peggy and I bonded over Rogoway. I think it was our appreciation of his work that was one of the things that sold her on us. I feel fortunate that he is in our collection.”

According to Isabelle Cozart, Executive Director of both the Lanning and Turquoise Tortoise galleries, the Lanning Gallery has become the key source for collectors seeking works by Alfred Rogoway, and it continues to promote and sell his work. “Life is so amazing sometimes—to think that it is Rog who is helping the galleries carry on.”

The Collections

Turquoise Tortoise Gallery is the older of the two galleries. Since 1971, it has represented outstanding work by Native American and Southwest artists—from original paintings and stone, bronze, and wood sculptures to Zuni fetishes, textiles, pottery, and turquoise set in sterling silver or gold. “There is so little to change there,” says Thomas. “All the artists are very well known, both on the jewelry and the painting sides. So most of our changes there will be on the back end—inventory management and a stronger online presence because we believe there is a big market for the gallery’s jewelry outside of Sedona.”

(See accompanying story about the prestigious inclusion of five preeminent Turquoise Tortoise Gallery artists in the 2019 “Navajo Masters” exhibition planned at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.)

In November 2017, the Nagels will feature one of these preeminent artists—David Johns, who holds great stature as an elder with his Diné (Navajo) clan. His work has a long-standing presence in both galleries. David John’s traditional paintings hang at the Turquoise Tortoise Gallery, and his abstract works at the Lanning Gallery. “My creations on paper or canvas do not come from a place preconception. They come from the innermost chambers of my soul,” he says.

At the Lanning Gallery, with its classic urban style, most of the enhancements also will take place at the back end. But the Nagels are interested in creating a little excitement with some new artists. According to Jennifer, “We tend to like things that are surprising and unexpected—quirky while still maintaining the high level of fine art that the Lanning Gallery demands. The Lanning Gallery is immaculately well-curated. There are very few pieces in here that we don’t love. Everything is very carefully chosen, and Isabelle does a beautiful job of hanging and lighting the gallery,” and, as Thomas notes, “putting the artwork in its best possible posture.”

In addition to David Johns, notable artists at the Lanning Gallery include Randi Solin (blown glass), Gerald C. Moore (expressive realism), Greg Gummersall (abstract painting), Gregory Deane (symbolic expressionism), and lapidarist and master jeweler Michael Grant (Peggy’s son), who is the only living member of the original triad of artists who opened the gallery.

No story about the Nagels’ purchase of Peggy’s galleries would be complete without mentioning the role their young daughter played in the decision. “We want Evelyn to know that there is always a place for art, and there is always a place for creativity. . . . First and foremost, we want art to be part of Evelyn’s reality so that she never remembers a time when art wasn’t part of her life . . . so that she knows that you can come to work every day and work around beautiful things,” says Jennifer. “And, more importantly, that whatever your passion is, you can do it.” Of course, there is the hope that one day Evelyn might want to take over the legacy forged by Peggy Lanning and embraced and enhanced by her parents.

Story written by Sylvia Somerville | Photos provided by the Lanning Gallery

For more information on the Lanning Gallery, visit: www.lanninggallery.com

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