Victoria Lansford is the guest author for a series on ASK Harriete as she shares her experiences about galleries that don't pay their artists. These posts include words of wisdom for what to watch out for and how to navigate the situation if it happens to you. Lansford creates one-of-a-kind wearable art in precious metals and unique stones. She is also the author/producer of the Metal Techniques of Bronze Age Masters: All Chained Up book and a DVD series.
Note: The opinions expressed by the author, Victoria Lansford, in this post are hers and hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is intended or implied.
FROM THE PEN OF VICTORIA LANSFORD:
As the saying goes in the retail world, cash is king, but in the art world, consignment is the norm, especially for higher-priced work. Consignment gives both artists and galleries the freedom to take risks and create meaningful work without the primary motivation being about what will sell. I do all one-of-a-kind work and have consigned it with galleries for over 20 years with great success... at least until recently. In 2009, I began new consignment relationships with four more galleries. Two of them have been a great working relationship.
The other two have never paid me for work sold nor returned my unsold work when I requested. One of the galleries, Twist of My Wrist, in West Palm Beach, Florida is now out-of-business. One of the owners, John Bandy, contacted me in early 2009 about carrying my bracelets. In retrospect, the deal they were offering to get me on board was too good to be true, a higher than usual percentage to the artist and the tags and contact info left on the work. I checked them out extensively online. Part of what made me less suspicious was that one of the owners had a link on their site to a more personal site. I knew of other galleries with similar links, so my gut feeling was that a scam business would not go to so much trouble. I also had a contract, signed by the gallery owner and thought that was enough.
I received fairly regular email updates about the gallery. No check meant no sales, or so I assumed. When I discovered one-day last summer that the website had suddenly disappeared, I immediately contacted John and was told that he had been going through a difficult time, was in the process of returning the artists’ unsold work, and that he would send mine within two weeks. Despite many emails from me and letters from my lawyer, that was the last I ever heard from John. I’ve received no money nor any unsold work, and John and his business partner have vanished off the planet.
The other gallery in question, Zaruba & Zaruba, sold numerous pieces of mine, but the owner, Andrew Zaruba, has yet to pay me for any of them. When I traded out work in time for the 2009 Christmas season, he sent back a bracelet for repair. I was puzzled, since those types of chains usually don't come back to me, and the break could only have been caused by extensive wear and tear. When I called and inquired, Andrew acted surprised that I had not been paid for it, but couldn’t provide me with any information on when it had sold, nor could he explain the whereabouts of two missing pieces on the inventory list. He said that he thought they were still at the gallery and just hadn’t gotten packed, but if he didn’t find them soon, he would include payment for them along with the money for the bracelet. I was mildly concerned but assumed he would pay on the 15th of the month.
I might be described as a hard-core skeptic, and am not at all easily fooled, yet my take on Andrew was that he was a busy, slightly disorganized business owner, trying to make it through tough economic times. I believed his story, sent the new work in time for Christmas and waited for the check to show up. It never has. Calls from me and from my lawyer elicited a few more promises at first and then were ignored and avoided.
In early April a friend, who lives near Frederick, Maryland, went to the gallery unannounced and picked up my unsold work, of which there were only three pieces left. Despite rough times, slow holiday seasons, and two blizzards, most of what I had sent had sold. Andrew had the nerve to ask her if he could just hang onto the work a little longer for an upcoming neighborhood gallery walk. When told no, he signed the copy of my inventory list that I had sent with my friend, stating that he would pay me by April 16th. The date came and went with no check in my mailbox and my subsequent phone messages were left un-returned.
After connecting with another artist, Jen Townsend, who has had a fairly long relationship with Zaruba & Zaruba and who Andrew has more recently treated in much the same way, I found that Andrew owes money to a long list of artists, most of them women. His lack of payments seems to have little to do with the economy since sales are apparently good. So where is the money going?
Jen Townsend has been kind enough to include her experience with Zaruba & Zaruba as our next post tomorrow. Stay Tuned!!!!!!!!
This post was updated on January 18, 2022.