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A lifetime of art in Vail

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyBill Rey, owner of Claggett Rey Gallery, stands in his gallery surrounded by a plethera of western art Thursday in Vail Village.
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VAIL , Colorado- Bill Oates and Bill Rey have known each other for 20 years or so, just about the whole time Rey’s had his own art gallery in Vail, Colorado.

Oates, who lives in Dedham, Mass., visits virtually every time he’s in Vail, to see what’s new at the Claggett/Rey Gallery, and to reconnect with an old friend.

“He knows his stuff,” Oates said of Rey. “And he really gets to know his clients.”

If there are secrets to selling art in Vail Village for 20 years, getting to know your clients is near the top of the list. Rey knows what his longtime clients like, and tries to make sure he’ll have paintings or sculptures that suit their tastes.

Claggett/Rey specializes in art of the American West. The walls of the gallery are filled – but not in a crowded way – with work by mostly-living artists, although there’s now a room full of work in tribute to Robert Lougheed, who died in 1982. Joe Beeler passed a few years ago, but remains one of the gallery’s mainstays.

“If you like Joe Beeler, Bill’s the guy to talk to,” Oates said.

There are actually more books than paintings or sculptures at the gallery, perhaps 5,000 in all. Rey believes in learning as much as possible about fine art, and not just the people he represents or the Western art style.

That desire to learn started in Rey’s youth. The son of Western artist Jim Rey, young Bill would stay in the background and listen when other artists came to the family’s ranch near Durango.

And Rey read – and still reads – just about everything about art he can get his hands on.

“Buying art is about knowledge,” Rey said. “People are asking us to help them build a collection of quality.”

Rey’s interest in art turned into a living when he came with the family to Vail in the summer of 1983 to visit John and Patty Cogswell at their gallery. That visit turned into a job offer. At first, Rey was just going to stay for the summer. Then he decided to stick around for a winter.

At first, Rey worked packing art for shipments. But when he got into the gallery, he could talk to anyone about art.

A few years later, that knowledge and knack for sharing it turned into a partnership with Ray and Sally Duncan. Sally Duncan’s maiden name put the “Claggett” in Claggett-Rey.

While the Duncans mostly stayed in the background, Rey said his partners have taught him a lot about business, about life and about art.

Rey said when he used to walk through Vail with the Cogswells, he was constantly amazed at the number of people they knew.

After more than 25 years in Vail, “I can’t go anywhere without running into someone I know,” Rey said.

“He just knows everybody,” Oates said.

But that’s a key part of the business, Rey said.

“It’s not just about selling,” he said. “It’s about family and friendships.”

People in the business just to make a living are missing something special, he added.

While relationships with clients are important, it’s the relationships with artists that really make a gallery stand out. Besides getting to know their work, Rey wants to get to know as much as possible about the people he represents.

To help cement the bonds between artist and representative, the Reys will spend time with artists, and will sometimes travel with them.

“I’m just trying to find out about their world,” Rey said. “I like to know what their hobbies are, and how they re-charge their batteries. An artist has to be charged up to create, and charged up about the gallery they’re in. If not, things don’t go well.”

Rey grew up with a painter in the family. His wife, Maggie, grew up with a sculptor.

“I think we both have a lot of empathy for the process.”

That empathy includes staying out of the way when artists decide what to ask for their work.

Rey acknowledges it’s been a tough year or so. But, he said, he hasn’t really talked to any of the artists he represents about how much they want to charge for their work, although he has mentioned to some they need to be “sensitive” to the market these days.

“But great art will always find a market,” Rey said. That’s why he doesn’t really worry if a piece he believes in hangs on the gallery’s walls for a while.

“And I tell people, ‘If you have a burning desire to create something – even if it’s big – then do it,'” he said.

That confidence in his clients, his artists and his own judgment, as well as longtime gallery manager Tom Bassett and others, keeps Rey smiling even during iffy times.

“I come in every day and I never go to work,” he said. “Fine art can make a difference in you life, and I love to put a piece in someone’s home that’s going to make their life better.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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