By: Samantha Klaassen
Any student at SMU who has had a class in B600 knows that it can be a dark and uninspiring place. Located in the basement of the Owen Arts Center, it’s a large lecture classroom with old seats and no windows. But that room is the place where Blakely Neilson (’17) took her first art history course — and found her passion in life.
“I was so enthralled with the course,” she says. “It was the first time I established my own identity with art, whereas before it was more of my mom’s passion.”
Neilson’s mother, Anne, has been nationally recognized for her ethereal Angel Series paintings which use color and light to reflect the artist’s faith. She has also published two coffee table books, Angels In Our Midst and Strokes of Compassion.Today, she owns and runs the Anne Neilson Fine Art Gallery in Charlotte, NC, which represents over 40 talented artists from around the world.
It’s no surprise that her daughter inherited her curiosity and expertise. “I have always been influenced by her love of art,” Neilson says.
Born and raised in Charlotte, she moved to Dallas to attend SMU. While in college, she worked for interior design firm Kirsten Kelli in both their New York and Dallas offices. After graduating with degrees in art history and finance, Neilson got a job working at Amy Berry Design. She loved working for these companies led by, as she describes, “strong businesswomen, wonderful mentors and talented interior designers.”
But recently she found herself searching for a way to further explore her passion for art, leading her to plan a three-month trip around the world that she calls her “art sabbatical.”
“Whenever I travel, the first place I go is either an art museum or gallery,” she says. “With a full-time job, it is so hard to take time off which is why I encourage everyone to go abroad during college if you have the opportunity.”
Even though Neilson loves visiting American art fairs like Miami’s Art Basel or New York’s Armory, she is yearning to branch out of her comfort zone when she leaves on her art sabbatical this May.
“The purpose of my trip is to focus on art across the world as I visit museums, galleries [and] private collections and meet with museum curators, gallery owners and collectors,” she says.
Her first stop is South America, where she’ll visit Colombia, Chili, Argentina and Brazil. From there, she’ll head to South Africa, Tanzania and Morocco. Her trip ends with a summer in Europe, hitting all the major spots: Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. Once she’s made her way through Europe’s museums and galleries, she’ll decide whether to head back to the U.S. or continue the trip through Asia. (Follow her travels @theartsabbatical).
But for the time being, Neilson is in Dallas hosting her first ever pop up art gallery. She was approached with the opportunity just two weeks ago and rushed to get everything just right in time for her opening on April 14th.
“I knew I was working against the clock,” she says. “I had only a matter of hours to convince the artists to agree to exhibit in Dallas, which was a slight challenge as I have no ‘real’ experience in the art world.”
All of the art freight trucks had already left New York for the Dallas Art Fair, which opened the day before Neilson’s gallery. That’s when her mom agreed to step in and help out.
“We established a joint venture for the pop up, and she was gracious enough to send her wonderful employees to help me with the gallery opening,” Neilson says. “I always hoped we would be a mother-daughter duo, but I never expected the partnership to be so soon.”
The exhibit, called “Untitled,” will be at Bausman & Company in the Dallas Design District from April 12 to 30 and is open by appointment only. At the gallery, the Neilsons are representing four artists whose work they are truly passionate about: Gary Komarin, Margaret Garrett, Mason Saltarrelli and William McClure.
Highlights include a piece from Komarin’s Cake Series that has been displayed in museums across the world and Garrett’s vibrant Matisse-esque paintings. Additionally, Brooklyn-based Saltarrelli’s work has been shown alongside Jean‑Michel Basquiat’s, and McClure is an emerging artist from Birmingham whose work is popular among many notable interior designers.
And what will Neilson do when she finally returns home?
“To combine my two degrees, I want to go into art investing or art consulting,” she says. “I still have a lot to learn when it comes to the art business and art history, but my goal is to learn as much as I can on my trip and then ultimately go to business school for my masters and study art business.”