This post is a continuation of Good Galleries Gone Bad - Don't Let This Happen to You. In the first post, Good Galleries Gone Bad - Don't Let This Happen to You - by Victoria Lansford, we heard a serious story of non-payment.
Note: The opinions expressed by the author, Jen Townsend, 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 JEN TOWNSEND (Courtesy of Victoria Lansford):
At first, we did very good business. I am very wary of consignment, but really connected with Amy, the [former] manager at Zaruba & Zaruba, and she inspired confidence in me to leave work with them. We signed a pretty standard boilerplate contract with a “net 30 payment” clause in it. I felt protected by the contract, received regular inventory statements and checks. She was also very skilled at selling my work. The store is in a terrific location, had high-quality work in it, a good sales team, and a lovely clientele.
Problems started when Amy left the store and Andrew Zaruba was in charge. The communication went downhill fast. I had about $20,000 (wholesale) of work in the store, so I decided to drop in and pull out my big gold pieces and leave the silver and a few smaller gold items. When I arrived (unannounced) Andrew looked surprised and a little taken aback. I discovered that he owed me $900. He wrote me a check. It cleared. I chose to leave the silver and lower-priced work there. Things did not improve. In retrospect, I should have listened to my instincts and pulled out everything, but I really loved the store, and, frankly, the checks I used to receive from the gallery.
Andrew placed custom orders with me in the early fall. I called in October to talk about the Christmas season. No callback. Called again every week in November. No callback. Finally, Andrew answered the phone in early December. He told me a couple of things had sold, but gave me a sob story about a new bookkeeper and being out of sorts in the business. No check. I didn’t send more work.
In early January, I finally got in touch and was told that some more things had sold, but not much and he wasn’t sure what and that he’d get back to me. A week later, I did receive an inventory statement, although there were penciled-in question marks all over it. I called to inquire. No callback. At this point, I decided to “pop-in” with my tall and protective brother in tow. Andrew looked freaked out this time and started talking very fast, saying he was “just about to call” and was “just figuring out what he owed” and was “just about to cut a check” and he thought it was “somewhere around $2,200”.
It turned out that he owed me $4,970! As I was pulling the work and tallying the costs, several customers came in and I saw Andrew pull in $2,200 (retail) in that half an hour. I agreed to take the payment in two checks – one dated that day, and one post-dated for a month down the road. The first check cleared without issue. I also offered to call Andrew to make sure that the second one would clear. He requested another week, but it still bounced. He did not return my calls or my emails.
I recently returned home from teaching for two months at Penland and called Andrew, and he actually answered the phone and said he could pay me at the end of the week. I don’t believe him. I am also in the process of filing a complaint against him with the Better Business Bureau. I became more frustrated when I connected with Victoria Lansford and heard that her story was almost identical to mine. As makers, we care about our work, we go to great lengths to make objects of integrity and to put them into the world and find loving homes for them. I don’t know any artist or metalsmith that has entered this field for the money – it’s always because we love it. I love what I do. I work very hard to run a profitable business. While it is just business, it’s also personal! This breach of trust feels awful and violating. I hope that other artists can learn from this blog. Listen to your instincts! If you feel like there are red flags, there probably are. Talk to other artists who have worked with galleries you’re considering. If something changes dramatically in your communication or payment schedule, proceed with caution.
I would like to thank Harriet Estel Berman and Victoria Lansford for opening this dialog and strengthening our community through communication.
FROM ASK Harriete:
The next post will be from Victoria Lansford again who will tell us the rest of her account with Good Galleries Gone Bad. Part Three will offer information we can apply to our own business relationships with galleries.
Stay tuned for the past, present, and future of this saga. Victoria is also going to share with us several warning signs, ways to "Prevent this type of Situation" and what to do "If this "Good Gallery Gone Bad" happens to you.
We have a lot to learn from these unfortunate stories. The arts community needs to be more vocal and visible when it comes to poor payment. It is the only way to effect change.
This post was updated on January 18, 2022.