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The Art of Expression

At the Intersection of Culture, Community and Creativity with SmithKlein Gallery and Karen Scharer

Article by Lisa Van Horne

Photography by Amanda Proudfit

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Community identity is a concept that’s close to the hearts of Nathan and Ann Klein, second-generation owners of Boulder’s SmithKlein Gallery. And it’s through their celebration and proliferation of art that they hope to help the Boulder community retain an identity of cultural diversity and vibrant artistic energy.

“American cities and towns aspire to be places where people want to live and visit,” Ann says. “Having a community identity is becoming even more important in a world where places tend to look the same. Local businesses provide character and originality, and create cultural diversity in ways that corporate shops simply can’t.”

SmithKlein Gallery has been a much-loved mainstay on Boulder’s historic Pearl Street Mall since 1984. Nathan’s mother, Deborah Smith-Klein, founded the gallery in an effort to spread her passion for fine art, and she became one of the few female business owners on Pearl Street Mall at the time. Nathan and his wife, Ann, purchased the business ten years ago, and it has evolved to represent modern and contemporary artists from all over the world. A commitment to enriching the community—as well as the lives of those within it—through artistic expression has remained foundational through the business’s nearly 40 years of existence.

Communication and experience are dual principles that are also key to the SmithKlein Gallery mission. Regarding the gallery’s physical location, Ann notes that it is of paramount importance that clients not only love the artwork that they choose, but also have an enriching experience when they walk through the doors. Ann notes it’s a virtue that has become even more vital since the onset of the pandemic, as there was a period when connecting with art in-person and on a personal level was lost.

The SmithKlein Gallery experience today is characterized by extensive knowledge—thanks to longtime manager Lize Brittin and the gallery team—as well as the expressive curation of the gallery itself. Curating is a particular passion for Nathan, as he pairs paintings with glass that highlights the colors of the works along with sculptures and other pieces—all from different artists—to create scenes and tell stories so that visitors can be inspired. Meanwhile, Ann works to provide realistic digital experiences to clients through tailored digital compositions that help them visualize their artwork in their home.

SmithKlein Gallery has become a destination for local, national and international clients. The relationships that the team forges with their partner artists are fundamental to this success. One such partnership is with Karen Scharer, a local artist who showcases her oil paintings at the gallery.

“I’ve been working with Nathan and Ann since 2019,” Karen says. “I feel like a valued member of the gallery family.”

Karen’s parents met during an oil painting class, and she was surrounded by a love for art throughout her early years.

“Both of my parents had an appreciation for how art can enliven and enrich life,” Karen says.

This early exposure planted the seeds for Karen’s eventual immersion in a creative career, and she began pursuing artistic endeavors seriously in 1986. From painting with watercolors, then acrylics, to now primarily focusing on oils, Karen has also transitioned from a style of traditional realism to non-objective abstraction.

“My motivations are pretty simple,” Karen says. “I paint because I feel compelled to try to add something positive to the world. I want my work to be uplifting and a source of inspiration and encouragement.”

While Karen notes that most of her work is non-objective, she says that the influence of the natural world—especially Colorado’s inspiring light, vistas and colors—is undeniable.

“I have a strong sense of optimism about people and our ability to overcome obstacles and build a better world,” Karen says. “I hope my paintings convey that sense of optimism and gratitude for the incredible world that we live in.”

As Nathan and Ann look to continue their family legacy of providing art to the community of Boulder and around the world, Karen notes the inimitable importance of a gallery such as theirs.

“A brick-and-mortar gallery run by knowledgeable art advocates who are also involved members of the community can provide much more than just décor,” Karen says. “The decades-long presence of SmithKlein Gallery in Boulder is a statement about the importance of a local source for art and creativity in a vibrant community. Their presence and welcoming approach offer an opportunity for members of the community to engage in-person with creativity, and the community’s ongoing support of their gallery is a reflection of the value it brings.”