From TV Newsman to Edgy Art Impresario
It takes a certain amount of panache to walk away from a successful career in television news to start an art gallery. But it takes considerably more courage to start that gallery in Columbus, Ohio, a medium-sized city far from the epicenter of the American art world in New York. And it might seem outright crazy to have that gallery specialize in one of the edgiest, most controversial genres--folk and outsider art created by unschooled autodidacts, some of them with rough-hewn visions of reality.
"When I think back 10 years, to when I left the television news business, it does seem like a crazy thing to do," Duff Lindsay concedes. "I had a dream job, working for a great broadcasting company where people tended to stay for their whole career. But, corny as it sounds, there's really something to be said for doing what you really have a passion for. And I feel that way about the art."
That passion--and smart planning--helped the Lindsay Gallery to become a commercial as well as an artistic success. In addition to discovering new outsider and folk artists in Ohio and building a local following of collectors, Lindsay gradually branched out on a national level. He exhibits at big shows such as Atlanta's Folk Fest and New York's Outsider Art Fair, and has developed a far-flung clientele interested in some of the more famous names in the genre, such as Elijah Pierce and William Hawkins.
"I had a business plan, even if it was just one scribbled on a cocktail napkin," he says.
Lindsay has been interested in outsider and folk art since the '70s when he was a film school student at Ohio State University. In college he worked on a documentary about Pierce, a barber who made fanciful wood carvings of beasts from folktales and the Bible, and created the Book of Wood, a depiction of the story of Jesus in bas relief exhibited in the Columbus Museum of Art. "I was fascinated by this man, and the spirit he had in him," Lindsay recalls. "He didn't need anyone to bestow the title of artist upon him, or an education to be validated."
Pierce's work made such a powerful impression that Lindsay wanted to learn about other artists in the same genre. After he went to work at WBNS in Columbus, he began collecting outsider and folk art. "I just loved the purity of what they were doing," he says. "So much of contemporary art is designed to be cool and trendy, and it's very much hype-driven. When I saw some of the great stuff, such as William Hawkins and S.L. Jones, it just transcended everything else."
Lindsay spent 23 years in the TV news business, most recently as a health care and medical news producer. When he tired of the daily grind in the late 1990s, he decided it was time to try something new. "I had stopped loving what I was doing," he says. "It wasn't that I hated it, but I didn't want to get there. The best advice I can give people who are contemplating a midlife change is to do it while you still feel good about what you've accomplished in your first career."
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