Peggy Lanning: A lifelong devotion to art

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Former Sedona Art Gallery owner Peggy Lanning has represented some of the Southwest’s most prolific Native American artists – David Johns, Larry Yazzie, Baje Whitethorne Sr. and Tony Abeyta, to name a few. some.

In addition, the works of renowned contemporary artists hung on the walls of its galleries: Alfred Rogoway, who exhibited alongside Jackson Pollack, Joan Miro, Willem de Kooning and Pablo Picasso; and Ted CoConis, who is in the Illustrators Hall of Fame and has painted iconic illustrations for movie posters and Broadway shows; and Taos, NM, artist Randall LaGro, whose poetic work invites the viewer to look within – to contemplate, wonder and imagine. Yet, when asked about his greatest achievement in life, Lanning replies that it is his three children: Bob, Michael and Kimber.

“I’m really proud of my three seeds that are planted. I always said that if I do nothing else in this world, the thing that I am most proud of is the three honorable and good children that I put on this earth, you know, ”said Lanning. “I mean that in every way. They are different. Everyone is different…. They are still beautiful human beings, and they all contribute something to the world.

Lanning’s oldest son, Bob, 62, is an architect in Tucson. Michael Grant, 59, is a master jeweler. Kimber, 55, is an entrepreneur, musician, and founder of Local First Arizona, a statewide nonprofit that helps underserved communities in rural areas.

Sitting on her patio in her art-filled home in West Sedona with Kimber by her side, Lanning, 89, reminisces about her life, which is as colorful as the artwork that once hung in her gallery. Kimber describes her mother as “a turtle because she walks around with a hard shell, but she has a soft belly”.

“She instilled confidence in me and was yelling at me, saying, ‘Just remember, Kimber, nobody can make you do anything.’ It was my kindergarten lesson,” Kimber said.

Sedona Galleries

Lanning is known for her no-nonsense, say-it-it-is-it-yourself attitude and assertiveness that have served her well over the years. She had an eye for art and a heart to make a difference, which did not go unnoticed among the artists she represented. Lanning owned two galleries in Sedona – one was her namesake, Lanning Gallery, which she opened in 1986, and the other, her first concept, the Turquoise Tortoise Gallery, which opened in 1971 in a store in flowers in Glendale. She opened her two galleries at Hózhó Plaza located in the heart of Gallery Row on State Route 179.

Hózhó is perhaps the most important word in the Navajo language. Often translated as “balance and beauty”, the concept of Hózhó emphasizes states of harmony: to be in Hózhó is to be one with the world and to be part of it. The interconnectedness of Hózhó and Lanning’s relationship with Native American artists was symbiotic. She had a strange feeling seeing their talents and abilities.

Lanning recalls the time she met Abeyta, known for her artwork of the New Mexico landscape, ancestral Navajo iconography, and American modernism.

“Tony Abeyta’s paintings are seen not only with the eyes, but also with the soul,” Lanning said. “Tony was 17 when I met him. I sat in his stall at the Indian market, but recognized he had talent. He let me sit in his stall – he didn’t there was nobody – we were talking.

“He tells everyone he met me when he was 17. But he knew me when he became an artist at 30,” Lanning said.

Lanning Gallery was among the first to bring significant contemporary art to Sedona and helped establish Sedona as an artistic destination. His gallery featured works of art by world-renowned and avant-garde emerging artists. Lanning has exhibited original oils, acrylics, watercolors, ceramics, hand-carved furniture, contemporary sculptures, art glass, and Native American jewelry, including turquoise jewelry from his son Michael.

The Turquoise Tortoise, located across a breezeway from the Lanning Gallery, featured many of the best Native American jewelers in the country. Lanning’s guiding principle and work ethic has always been to treat the artist with dignity and to evaluate their art fairly. The first time Lanning was approached by a Native American artist to buy her jewelry, she asked him how much he wanted.

“He said, ‘Well, I was thinking $250,'” Lanning said. “And I said, ‘Well, I can’t give you a dime over $300.’ And if you think it didn’t spread like wildfire among other artists, you’re wrong – top artists have come to me.

Public Service

“I was surprised how one thing led to another,” Lanning said. “I’ve always tried to give back to the community. I never felt like the community owed me anything. I’ve always felt indebted to the community because it’s a big community. I would get involved in different things.

Lanning helped raise money for children who couldn’t attend camp in Sedona. She talked to the teachers and had the children make pottery, which she then displayed in her gallery on pedestals – just like the masters – and sold it for between $20 and $40. The money raised is returned to the school to pay for the camp.

“The kids were so proud,” Lanning said. “They had to learn how to talk to adults and show their work. They weren’t just bringing their work, they had to support it, show it, and tell people about it when they were looking to buy.

“All the money went into a pot, then all the kids were able to go to camp. So that was one of the first things I did with the schools.

Gulf Coast Childhood

Lanning grew up on the Gulf Coast in a small town of Long Beach, Mississippi, 67 miles east of New Orleans. She said her mother trained her as an entrepreneur from the start.

“My mom taught me at a very young age how to make money and how to make a living,” Lanning said. “She was the only female realtor and business owner in 1930s Mississippi. And I remember as a child sitting at his desk. She made me answer the phone at a very young age – but you learn a lot that way.

When she was 10 or 12, Lanning said she went door to door asking people if they were considering putting their homes on the market.

“Of course it was cold calling. I didn’t know that,” Lanning said. “And they said, ‘No, honey, we’re not going to sell ours. But the husband was like, “Oh, but Maude, you know, the Harrises were talking about selling their house. So I took the lead.”

Lanning explained that she learned the best of both worlds from her parents. “My dad was more generous than my mom,” Lanning said of her dad, Walter.

“I remember as a kid the phone would ring in the middle of the night and someone was in trouble or in jail. And they were calling Walter to help them. And then my dad would get dressed and work with the law to see if he could get them out and bring him home.

“I learned a lot from my dad,” Lanning said. “And my mom was more of an entrepreneur.”

The tenacity she showed as a child was instilled in her children. Kimber describes her mother as being able to overcome obstacles, and she appreciated her tenacity, courage and entrepreneurial spirit that led to this moment as well as her level of compassion. Kimber grew up in Glendale, but visited Sedona as a child. His father was a fighter pilot stationed at Luke Air Force Base.

“My dad served three missions in Vietnam,” Kimber said. “Mum always insisted on taking us to do things when he was away because she didn’t want us to be the only kids sitting at home whose dads weren’t around, especially on Sundays. Very often she brought us to Sedona and we used to stay at the Briar Patch Inn or we went to the Rainbow Trout Farm. She brought us here long before she thought about opening this gallery.

Final exhibition

When Lanning was about to retire in 2017, she wanted to do another exhibition as a grand finale – not at her gallery but at the Booth Museum of Western Art, in Cartersville, Ga. She approached Seth Hopkins, executive director from the museum, to put on a show featuring six of the best living Navajo master artists: Abeyta, Johns, Yazzie, Whitethorne, Shonto Begay and Emmi Whitehorse. Lanning was asked to be a guest curator.

On May 16, 2019, Lanning, Kimber and her longtime associate and gallery director Isabelle Cozart mounted the exhibit. The art included highlights of the rich Navajo cultural and spiritual traditions and messages conveyed by each artist in their styles. Many artists have worked with Lanning for over 40 years, including Johns and Abeyta.

“It was beautiful. I felt very proud. And I thought ‘what a wonderful way to end my career to have a show like this,'” Lanning said. from me. The show was about Navajo artists. And they gave them a beautiful theater to talk about and show their work. And they supported their work and told everyone about it. And everyone was very interested.

“They told the Booth Museum it was the biggest turnout they’ve ever had for an opening reception,” Kimber said. “It was packed.”

When asked if he misses his galleries, Lanning replies with a glint in his eye, “Oh, yes, sure, sometimes. But I also realized at the end that I was missing a beat. You know, I mean, I was 85. And you’re bound to miss a beat once in a while when you get to that age. It’s a lot of responsibility. Many employees, 40 artists. So sometimes I miss it.

Lanning’s philosophy has always been that if you do good with the universe, the universe will do good with you.

“It’s just something that comes naturally. I never miss an opportunity to look a little further and see if I think I can make a difference. And if I think I can, I will. I’m not sad about anything I haven’t done. I have to say that I did everything I wanted to do – and more. But I wouldn’t say there are things I wish I could do. I’d be too busy trying to find a way to do that.

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