Coloring Her World
Michele Hembree brings art to the people.
Photo by Dave Strauss
Dreams don’t always come true, but they did for Michele Hembree. After years of being an art enthusiast, handling lots of artwork for the White Elephant Sale, and then selling pieces from her own collection, Hembree, a mother of two, has opened the doors to her own showroom, MGH Discovered Art. Hembree admits to being hopelessly passionate about the world of art and bringing it to the people.
How did you get into the art world?
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in art. Before I had children, I was a graphic designer, so my background is rooted in design. But what really took my interest and love of art to the next level was volunteering in the art department at the annual Oakland Museum’s White Elephant Sale over the last nine years. It was there that I got exposed to thousands of pieces of art every year and learned all that I know. Every department at the sale has a specialist that oversees his or her area and is basically in charge. The art department will always be my favorite department. I’ve had—and still have—the privilege of working with curators, dealers, collectors, and docents as well as artists themselves, basically a variety of people who have dealt with art in every realm possible. And such a talented team of experts is necessary as many of the donations received are very special and unique pieces art, requiring verification and appraisals. On occasion, a painting has been so valuable or important that we’ve had to send it back to the museum. Besides identifying art, we learn the story behind the piece, do research, and write bios for the paintings when we can, and price everything fairly. It is absolutely my favorite place to be as we gear up for the January opening.
Tell me about MGH Discovered Art.
After years of being obsessed with and passionate about art, and then having success at selling, I began to feel validated as a dealer. I have sold on eBay, One King’s Lane, Charish, the 2nd Friday Art Walk, and also sell at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, and the Park Street wine and art festival. The time finally felt right for me to open my own showroom and show people art in person. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction. I love walking people through their search process for affordable, original works, and possibly broadening their ideas. Connecting people with a painting that they love is a real joy for me, hence my motto, “Bring art to the people.” I still sell online (MGHDiscoveredArt.com), but am very excited to now be selling in my showroom on Park Street. I feel so lucky to have found my calling.
What type of artwork does your showroom represent?
It’s constantly changing, but I mostly sell mid-century modern art. I have an eclectic collection of art in different mediums. I offer landscapes, abstracts, figurative art, portraits, seascapes, landscapes, florals, still-life paintings, and photography as an art form. There are lots of opportunities to see my collection through social media. I stay current on Instagram and Facebook, as well as on my website. I appreciate a wide spectrum of art and only buy and sell things that I love. I also carry some pretty cool prints that are reasonably priced. I actually think prints are underrated and often misunderstood. Most people don’t realize that certain prints that are created from original art are considered original art, too.
Do you have any advice for those looking to buy art?
I always tell people to buy what they love and can afford and what really speaks to them rather than settling for something to just fill their wall space. My whole life I’ve noticed art wherever I am. I highly recommend that same practice for anyone interested in investing in a painting or whatever it is they are looking for. Whether it is in a department store, an office, a coffee shop, a friends’ home, or even Kaiser hospital (they have amazing original art), pay attention to what catches your eye, to what you like and don’t like, and to what excites you. It takes time to find the perfect piece. Do your research, ask a lot of questions, and be patient.
What common mistakes to do you see people make when buying art?
Well, we’ve all made mistakes, or should I say have changed our minds about what we’ve bought. But I think that’s also part of the learning process. The more you learn and observe, the more evolved your taste becomes. It takes time to develop your eye for art, so don’t beat yourself up for buying something that you’ve moved on from. To avoid a mistake, I suggest seeing art in person when you can, and if you can’t, request a larger image by email. I tend to advise people not to invest a lot in trendy pieces. They might be fun for a short period, but you’ll be happier, I believe, with something you won’t tire of. One mistake I think people make is getting rid of their art too fast. Sometimes if you put it away for a while, you might re-appreciate it at a different time in your life or maybe just in a different spot. I move paintings around in my house all the time; just ask my husband.