Pam Kiecker Royall and Bill Royall in their private Try-me gallery on West Main Street. (Photo by Sarah Walor)
Perhaps you’ve seen the mysterious art gallery on West Main Street, located next to Page Bond Gallery and across from Glavé Kocen. It’s usually dark inside when First Fridays events are in full swing, yet a peek into the windows reveals that it is filled with fabulous contemporary art. It’s the private Try-me gallery, housing the personal art collection of Bill Royall and Pam Kiecker Royall. More of their art can be found at the headquarters for Royall and Co., the higher education direct marketing firm Bill founded that was purchased by the Advisory Board Co. for $850 million in 2014. He and Pam, who works as head of research at Royall, are avid art collectors and benefactors of Richmond’s art scene, donating $5 million for VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art.
The couple, who have been married since 2009, started collecting art about 10 years ago, with a focus on contemporary art. Their collection spans everything from works by VCU undergraduates and local artists Bill Fisher and Diego Sanchez to top international contemporary artists Diana Al-Hadid and Kehinde Wiley. “We love hanging the work of an undergraduate next to a person my age whose work sells for hundreds of thousands,” Bill says.
Their Try-me gallery (originally a bottling plant for Try-me sodas) is more than a monument to their acquisitions. They offer the space to nonprofits for art-related events, and invite educators from kindergarten teachers to VCU art professors to use the gallery and its resources. “Virtually every artist and dealer, when we buy a piece, we ask if they will come to Richmond to give a talk here as part of the deal,” Bill says. “We have had art history classes visit to meet one of the artists they are studying.”
While some people collect art as an investment, for the Royalls, it’s about passion and using art as a resource for the community. “I can’t ever remember us having a discussion about, ‘Is this a good investment?’ ” Bill says.
“We’ve never sold a piece of art,” Pam adds. Instead, the couple plans to donate all of their art to museums. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where Bill is president of the board of trustees, has been the recipient of many of the couple’s gifts, including several scuptures by Charles McGill and a painting by Titus Kaphar this past December. “It was so cool to see the artists posting on Facebook about it,” Bill says. “It was a pivotal moment in some of their careers — they were suddenly part of a museum collection.”
Pam says she views art collecting as a vehicle for self-expression. “You don’t have to be an artist to be creative and be energized by art,” she says. “What Bill and I aspire to do is build relationships and strengthen the community. I honestly don’t think people see it like that. I think that they see it as self-indulgent. But you can do good by exercising your passion.”
You don’t have to be a millionaire to collect art. Just ask Katie Branch, a kindergarten teacher at Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts whose art collection is her prized possession. “If my house would start burning, I would grab the art off the walls before I saved anything else,” she says. “It adds so much color and feeling and beauty to my life.” Branch, who credits her parents with fostering her interest in art, says she started collecting art as a preteen. Her Fan home is adorned with everything from art made by friends to art she picked up as a souvenir while traveling, to paintings from local art galleries.
Branch and her boyfriend, Archie Dunham, whose grandmother is a museum curator, shop for and buy art together. Their most recent acquisition is a large work by Richmonder Ed Trask, purchased from Glavé Kocen Gallery. Financially, it was a stretch for the young couple, but Branch says that art and travel are priorities in her life.
Katie Branch and Archie Dunham with their dog, Greta, and their newly acquired Ed Trask piece, which was painted on paint stirrers. (Photo by Jay Paul)
“I try to squirrel away a discretionary art fund so that I can buy [art] when I like it,” she says. “It could be anything from an inexpensive piece to something that means I’m going to be eating noodles for a while.” Branch says she simply buys what she likes “If it speaks to me, I get it — if I can afford it.”
She tries to visit local galleries regularly to keep up with the art scene, and encourages would-be collectors to visit galleries just to look. “Just think of a gallery like any other store,” she advises. “And if you really do love something, talk to the owners. Don’t be intimidated.”
Most galleries will work out payment plans with buyers, and many will let potential clients take artwork home for a trial run. She says she recently took home two paintings from Glavé Kocen to see how they looked in her home, only to determine that they did not work. “It was totally cool with them,” she says.
To anyone looking to buy original art, she offers this advice: “Start small. Your first piece does not need to be thousands of dollars. My collection will be growing for the rest of my life. There is no bad art. If you like it, that’s all that matters.”
Before you head to a big-box store to purchase a mass-produced print to hang above your sofa, consider investing in an original work by a local artist instead
There’s nothing like original art to add personality and soul to your home. Art provides a means for personal expression — not only for those who created it, but for those who own it.
“It sparks conversations,” artist Matt Lively says of his art collection. “We talk more about the art in my house with other people than we do about anything else, and the conversation can go in a million different directions.”
Original art can last forever. It’s something you can pass on to your children. Plus, by choosing to purchase an artist’s work, you are supporting the local economy.
Visit local art galleries (they aren’t open just on First Fridays) and get familiar with the type of work they show. Hint: most galleries have openings on the Thursday before First Fridays that are geared toward more serious collectors.
Don’t be intimidated — ask questions about the art. Research artists online and visit their studios if you like what you see. Don’t rule out a work because it seems out of reach; galleries often will set up a payment plan. In December, many galleries hold group shows featuring affordably priced small works.
Cast a wide net. Look beyond downtown galleries to cooperative artist spaces such as Art Works and the something-for-everyone Crossroads Galleries. Check out buyrvaart.com to see a range of local art. Attend shows such as Arts in the Park. Attend art auctions: The 1708 Gallery, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Fox Elementary School’s PTA and the Faison School for Autism all hold well-attended benefit art auctions yearly.
And don’t forget Virginia Commonwealth University and its School of the Arts, which will hold its annual undergraduate exhibitions from March 24 to April 3 and graduate exhibitions from April 8 through May 15 at the Anderson building, 907 1/2 W. Franklin St., and VCU’s Depot Gallery at 814 W. Broad St. (for details, visit arts.vcu.edu/calendar/events/).
“Those are can’t-miss events as far as I am concerned,” says prominent local art collector Bill Royall. Numerous pieces from VCU graduate and undergraduate students hang in the Royalls’ collection.