The Many Roles of Nevada Fine Arts

It might be easier to think of Nevada Fine Arts as six businesses in one: an art supply store, a gallery, a classroom, a gift shop, a picture frame store, and a print and service center. photography for artists.

That being said, it started out as a frame shop in 1969.

If you ask Mark Hammon, he’ll tell you he’s the third and a half owner of the store.

That’s because he bought the business after marrying his wife, Debbie Wolf, the third official owner who bought the business in 2002.

Before that, two other people had been in charge of the thriving store that once existed on Fourth Street but has called 1301 S. Virginia St. in Midtown since 2007.

“Right now, art supplies are more of a business than our framing,” says Hammon. Although he admits that corporate coaching is still a big part of the income stream.

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During its 53 years in business, Nevada Fine Arts has undergone several expansions. The art store has added classes in a myriad of disciplines, from drawing and watercolor to palette knife painting taught by Piper Johnson.

The business model, Hammon says, was created to favor teachers who set their own prices for the classroom and decide how to manage the materials. The fees for Nevada Fine Arts are the same, so instructors can really choose how much they earn.

Often the biggest benefit for Nevada Fine Arts is bringing new customers into the store.

Although they have a few local artists teaching regularly, Hammon says they need more.

A classroom space at Nevada Fine Arts allows local artists to teach others, which Hammon says is part of the boutique’s business model. Image: Nora Pie / This is Reno

There’s also an on-site gallery downstairs, open pretty much any time the shop is open (apart from the last three or four days of a show when they turn it over to a new set of artists).

Each month there is an event on Saturday where the exhibiting artists gather and interested parties can come in, chat with them, view the art and have light snacks and drinks.

“It’s an opportunity for emerging artists to find gallery work,” Hammon says, adding that they have artists of varying pedigrees, but almost all are Reno and Tahoe residents.

For two months of the year, November and December, each artwork in the gallery is available to retail for $100 or less to encourage gift giving during the holiday season.

Those who create often need a place to produce high quality prints of their work to sell at a lower price or photos of a piece that they can place on their website. Nevada Fine Arts Concierge Services offers it.

“We do the work for them,” says Hammon.

The magic happens on the ground floor where a basement houses work tables for the staff, two large format printers and a small photography studio with all the necessary (and very expensive) equipment.

A wall of painting options at Nevada Fine Arts, which offers the largest selection of art supplies in Northern Nevada.
A wall of painting options at Nevada Fine Arts, which offers the largest selection of art supplies in Northern Nevada. Image: Nora Pie / This is Reno

As for inventory, Wolf and Hammon, who are artists themselves, say they stock a good, better, and better of each product. “We have a part of the lower end [products]mainly for children,” says Hammon.

And everyone who works at Nevada Fine Arts is also an artist, a shift Hammon was passionate about implementing when he arrived.

This, he believes, provides another level of customer service where customers can benefit from the knowledge of those helping them shop.

It’s Nevada Fine Arts’ way of eliminating the competition.

Known as the largest art supply store in Northern Nevada with 18,000 SKUs, Hammon says other stores don’t carry the same line of products as they do or employ artists to sell them.

“I sort of consider us the only real art supply store [in northern Nevada],” he says.

Hammon and Wolf also have extensive knowledge. Wolf is a published artist who first worked in graphic design and taught art to children before purchasing Nevada Fine Arts with her former husband. She mainly works in mixed media, photography and encaustic painting (or wax painting). Hammon made a living working with computers but dabbled in photography when he was 5 years old.

“All that work with art kind of came to the surface,” Hammon says of joining the business. Now he draws, paints and does watercolours. He also creates jewelry, including a piece that ended up in the Smithsonian, but if you ask him, he’s not a jeweler.

Instead, jewelry making is a hobby, which involves donating 50 to 200 pieces each year to Burning Man when present as part of the Burning Man Documentation Team, officially employed by the Burning Man organization.

Part art store, part gallery, part gift shop – Nevada Fine Arts is a multi-faceted business that has been in Reno since 1969. Image: Nora Tarte/This Is Reno

It’s just a scramble for the duo who attend the playa’s biggest event every year to take photos and videos. Some end up in publications across the country, credited to Wolf and Hammon. Others make the circuits of the gallery.

Newer to the store is a line of high-end fountain pens and stationery, items that appear to be in demand after several local stationery stores in Reno closed. “We try to keep a sense of people’s needs and expand what art is,” Hammon says.

And the building itself looks a bit like a work of art. You walk through the front door of the retail operations and out the back is a large open concept art studio where classes are held. Upstairs Hammon has an office and downstairs there is an artist’s studio and gallery.

The strange juxtaposition of the space can be attributed to its former use as a local bank. It’s also listed as one of Reno’s haunted places, with many claiming the faces of demons were visible in some of the original detail work, giving a different kind of clientele an excuse to stop by in space.

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