Cathy Shannon holds a degree in advertising, marketing, and public relations from the University of Louisville — knowledge that has come in handy now that she works full-time at E&S Gallery. The gallery was founded by her husband Walter Shannon in 1989 and represents works of African-American artists. Cathy is currently working to earn her MFA in Art History and Critical and Curatorial Studies at the University of Louisville.
How do you find the artists you represent?
Sometimes an artist approaches us and other times we approach an artist. Or maybe a client recommends a particular artist. We attend professional organization conferences and conventions and meet other artists that way, too. Typically from March to October we travel to art shows and exhibit maybe 20 of the 60 or 70 artists that we represent. This year, all of the shows were canceled due to the coronavirus.
Who do you represent?
We represent Kentucky and national African-American artists — sculptors, quilters, collage artists, painters. Two of our artists paint as one. They are identical twin brothers who paint on the same canvas at the same time. If one paints something the other one doesn’t like it gets painted over so it’s a constant process until they finally agree that the piece is completed and sign it. But, there may be 10 different originals under the finished product.
What type of art are you drawn to?
I definitely appreciate a beautiful piece of art. Art can speak to me in different ways. Sometimes it’s the style of the artist, the message or theme of a particular piece, the technique that the artist uses, and sometimes the art and artist come with interesting stories.
What do you see as the purpose of art?
To tell a story, capture a moment in time, interpret events, and to bring joy.
An inspiring experience?
We represent artist and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, who at age 16 in the 1930s applied to the School of Fine Arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and was accepted. When they discovered she was African-American, she was refused admission. I recounted this story to a group in Pittsburgh where Carnegie Mellon is located, and someone from the president’s office was in attendance. She related the story to the president, who decided that the injustice needed to be corrected. In 2008, the school gave Elizabeth — she was in her 80s by then — an honorary doctorate degree and a one-woman show. She died four years later.
What is important about public art?
I serve on the Committee for Public Art for the city of Louisville, which offers grants to artists. Beauty and interpretation of events is important, and public art funding and support for the artists enhances our community aesthetic and tells a story.
Plans for the future of the gallery?
We plan on being in Louisville for a long time. When you do something you enjoy it makes sense to enjoy it as long as you can.
What were your plans for yourself?
I dreamed of being an advertising rep. I grew up watching Bewitched and that’s what Darrin the husband did. That inspired me.
Advice for aspiring artists and business owners?
Be committed to being your best. Take classes to improve your art. In order to run a successful business, know that your reputation is everything. Don’t take any shortcuts and operate with integrity.
BY LUCY M. PRITCHETT
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