In 1995, a Washington, DC-based legal administrator quit her job and sold her house to open Middleburg’s Byrne Gallery. Hundreds of exhibits and featured artists later, she and her brother are anxious to push ahead with even more events and renowned artists.
The Byrne Gallery celebrated its 25th anniversary last Saturday with a reception that also kicked off the gallery’s 17th annual exhibit featuring the work of Yuri Gorbachev, an internationally acclaimed Russian artist.
Opened in November 1995 by Susan Byrne, the gallery has hosted close to 300 exhibits and has featured the artwork of more than 500 artists from around the world.
Operated by Susan and her brother, Bill Byrne, the gallery also offers artwork installation services, which the duo has performed at dozens of corporate offices and private residences through the years.
Susan hatched the idea to open the gallery shortly after taking a new job with a law firm in Washington, DC. Her career in the legal field spans back to 1982, when she landed a job with the law firm of Holland & Knight. Over the next decade, she moved around from firm to firm in DC until eventually coming to the determination that she was at “a graduation point” and was ready for something new.
“Although it was a very good job and a very good firm and I was making a lot more money, I realized it wasn’t about the money,” she said.
Three elements factored into her decision to open the art gallery in Middleburg: she enjoyed visiting the town, she had always wanted to open her own business, and her mom was an artist who had instilled within her a passion for the arts.
“We had a really good background in the arts and art history,” she said of her family, noting that she personally does not identify as an artist.
And, her mentor told her that if she didn’t tackle her dream then, she likely would never have.
“I got good encouragement from somebody I thought was very sound,” she said.
Nine months after starting her latest legal job, Susan quit, sold her Georgetown house and headed to Middleburg. A month later, with $60,000 in the bank and no loans on hand, she opened the gallery along Washington Street in the heart of town with the help of a business partner.
When that partner left the business at the end of 1996, Susan’s mother, also named Susan, moved to the area to help her daughter. And when her mother died in 2000, Susan’s brother, Bill Byrne, left his career in legal facilities management in California and moved to the East Coast to take up their mother’s half of the reins.
In the past 25 years, the gallery has hosted hundreds of exhibits, including a dozen featuring the work of Notre Dame Academy students. Susan and Bill also branched out a bit from the confines of the gallery’s walls to offer art acquisition, framing, restoration, relocation and installation services for corporate and private clients, including Northrop Grumman, Apple, Kraft Foods, SONA Bank and the Salamander Resort & Spa. When Salamander opened in August 2013, Susan and Bill were in charge of installing artwork in each of the resort’s 168 guestrooms.
“That’s really what has kept us afloat,” Bill said about the gallery’s art installation service.
And in 2009, Susan helped launch the Middleburg Arts Council—an advisory committee to the Town Council that coordinates the town’s cultural and art events.
The Byrne Gallery is now one of only a handful of town businesses still in operation from 1995.
Today, it’s among five esteemed art galleries in Middleburg. Those include Red Fox Fine Art, which opened in 1979, the National Sporting Library & Museum, which opened its art museum in 2010, Artists in Middleburg, which opened in 2015, and Journeymen’s Treasures, which former Middleburg Arts Council Chairwoman Debbie Cadenas opened two weeks ago. The Sporting Gallery, which opened in 1963, closed its doors three years ago.
When asked why Middleburg is such a hotspot for art and artists, Susan said visitors see the countryside surrounding the town and “it inspires you.”
“I think that that’s a big draw for artists,” she said.
Moving past the dreaded year of 2020, Susan said The Byrne Gallery can remain in operation for years to come.
Its current exhibit showcasing Gorbachev’s newest paintings, which are inspired by Byzantine art and feature colorful canvases in oil and gold leaf, continues through Jan. 3.
Gorbachev has exhibited his work in the gallery every year for 17 straight years and is now on a world tour with shows in Russia, Europe and the Far East. His work is featured in the Louvre in Paris, the Kremlin in Moscow and the White House in DC. Gorbachev has also designed advertisements for Absolut and Stolichnaya Vodka that have appeared in hundreds of magazines across the world and was commissioned by Stolichnaya Red Vodka in 2011 to design its new label.
Those wishing to visit The Byrne Gallery to see Gorbachev’s work may stop by Mondays and Tuesdays by appointment, Wednesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12-5 p.m.
The gallery is located at 7 W. Washington St. Learn more at byrnegallery.com.