George Lawson outside his gallery at 12 East Blithedale Avenue, along with Johanna Baruch’s “Creatio Continua,” middle, and other work exhibited there currently, at left, and Ken Eagles-Smith, at right, in his gallery at 23 Sunnyside Avenue in from of “Sailing on the Bay II” by James Weeks. Courtesy images.

Business openings and closings are a common phenomenon – look no further than your second visit to your new favorite restaurant in San Francisco, only to be greeted by its replacement.

But a pair of marquee openings in Mill Valley in recent weeks – the George Lawson Gallery and the Kim Eagles-Smith Gallery – have the local arts community abuzz with the likelihood that the 94941 has been given a shot of artistic adrenaline to an already fervent arts community.

“There’s no doubt that this really makes Mill Valley an art destination,” says Donna Seager, co-owner of the Seager Gray Gallery at 108 Throckmorton Ave. who’s known both men for many years. “Mill Valley is becoming more and more densely cultural. We are so excited that they both are here – it’s great for us, great for them, great for our local restaurants and shops and great for the entire community.”

Since its opening in San Francisco in 2008, Lawson’s renowned eponymous art gallery has been fairly nomadic, hopping from Union Square to Culver City to San Francisco’s Potrero Hill and most recently Emeryville before returning to San Francisco’s Potrero Hill. The latest stop in Lawson’s journey has brought him to Mill Valley, where he recently made his home and now basks in a delightful pedestrian commute along Ethel Ave., down SLP#6 and through the Mill Valley Lumber Yard to his gallery is at 12 East Blithedale Avenue.

“Mill Valley has unique qualities and it’s not like any other town own Marin,” Lawson says. “You’d have to go to a place like Sante Fe to get that special feeling of a hamlet like this. It’s unique, it’s not suburban and its has a connection to nature and history and to the magic at the foot of Mt. Tam and the fact that the whole town smells of Redwood dust. To me it’s just magical.”

Eagles-Smith, proprietor of an equally renowned and eponymous San Francisco art gallery, has lived in Mill Valley for nearly 40 years, first in Alto and now in Shelter Bay, decided to move his gallery to the 94941 with a bit of arm-twisting from Lawson, whom he’s known for years from their time at 49 Geary Street. One of the more interesting twists of the arrival of Lawson and Eagle-Smith is that the latter gave Lawson his final show as a painter before he transitioned into being a gallerist.

“My colleagues knew me as an artist and it took them a while to adjust and accept me as one of their own,” Lawson says. 

Eagles-Smith opened his gallery at 23 Sunnyside Avenue last month, taking over the long-vacant space formerly occupied by Zener Schon Gallery and the Seager Gray Gallery prior to that.

“Marin’s fine arts landscape is adding two jewels to its glowing creative crown,” says Pamela Livingston chair of the Mill Valley Arts Commission, which produces the longstanding First Tuesday Artwalk. “We’re absolutely thrilled to welcome them here.”
Eagles-Smith says a number of factors contributed to his move. 

“It’s the changing environment of the downtown, where I’ve been a gallery owner or employee for 35 years,” he says. “It’s the mono culture of tech and startups causing skyrocketing rents, the fact that you don’t need to be downtown anymore because of the Internet and because of the overall deterioration of the social conditions downtown. And most of my clients live in Marin, the North Bay, the East Bay or the Peninsula.”

“Nowadays, it’s just as easy for people to cross the bridge and come here than it is to get around the city,” adds Seager, noting that both men enjoy great reputations, put on significant exhibitions and programs and show work from really well known artists.

Seager says the arrival of Lawson and Eagles-Smith, coupled with Robert Green Fine Arts and their gallery, “gives us such a broad spectrum of artwork to draw on. Not only does it not hurt us but it will bring a high level of art collector that visits bonafide great galleries,” she says,” noting that both Lawson and Eagles-Smith are members of the influential SF Art Dealers Association, with Lawson serving as its vice president.

“We just need to create a quorum of serious galleries here and become a destination unto ourselves,” Lawson says. “Galleries love to clutter together. They don’t see themselves as competitors. Everyone’s got different artists and it’s quite easy for them to be in close proximity and not trip over each other.”

“We simply couldn’t be more thrilled,” says Seager.

The 411: George Lawson Gallery is at 18 East Blithedale #12 and is open Wed.-Sat., 11am-6pm, Sun, 12-4pm and by appointment. MORE INFO. Kim Eagles-Smith Gallery is at 23 Sunnyside Avenue and is open Tue.-Fri., 10:30am-5:30pm, Sat.-Sun., 11am-5pm and by appointment. MORE INFO.

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