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Southern Breeze Gallery owner wants to build on reputation

Jackson — Glenn Sanford remembers his first few days of owning Southern Breeze Gallery very clearly: With fewer than 20 artists, he was scrambling to find enough works of art to hang on the walls of the shop in Highland Village.

“One of our artists, Donna Purvis, was pulling paintings off the walls of her house and bringing them in so we would have enough to show,” he said.

And now Sanford is passing Southern Breeze Gallery’s mission to promote Mississippi artists to new owner Jackie Ellens, former promotions manager for WLBT and an artist already on the gallery’s roster.

Sanford and his business partner, Bill Jones, made the decision to step back from day-to-day operations of the space after Jones was diagnosed with cancer in February 2005.
Sanford, who has owned the gallery since September 1997, said that while Jones now has a clean bill of health after treatment, the ordeal was a wake-up call of sorts for him personally.

“It was time to try to have a life other than just working at the gallery,” he said.

With more than 80 Mississippi painters, sculptors, glassblowers, woodworkers and other craftsmen now on the roster, Sanford believes the high caliber of artistic talent available will continue to put the gallery on the map as far as name recognition and prestige goes.

With that legacy in mind, Sanford felt obligated to find a buyer who would combine business savvy with a love of art to continue the store’s success.

“We did not want to see the gallery go down as we have put so much time into it,” he said.

Sanford found that very combination right under his nose when he spoke with Ellens about the possibility of buying the gallery. Ellens has shown her oils in the gallery for the past three years.

“My undergraduate degree is in fine art, but my graduate degree, my master’s, is in business administration from Mississippi College,” she said.

Ellens, who left WLBT in August after 19 years, said that she has been taking on increasing responsibilities in operating the space from Sanford and Jones ever since she made the purchase.

“They have been teaching me a lot, and I’ve been learning,” she said.

The new owner faced a monumental challenge shortly after taking the plunge into ownership — the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on August 29 disrupted business operations for Southern Breeze just as it did for much of the state, depriving them of electricity and phone service for quite some time, Ellens said.

Although she’s surmounted that obstacle, Ellens remains busy balancing her other obligations as an artist against the demands of her new role in the gallery. She also shows art at Ashland in Mobile, Ala.; Lyon’s Share in Fairhope, Ala.; and Roundtree in Seaside, Fla. But she’s confident of her abilities in managing the diverse roles.

“Women tend to take on more than others. Women live a balancing act,” she said.

The most rewarding part of the business is aiding clients in designing their spaces for maximum enjoyment of their art selections, Ellens said.

The mission to promote primarily Mississippi artists should remain the focus of the business for the near future, although ensuring the quality of the art available is an important consideration as well, according to Ellens.

“I hope it becomes where, when people decorate their homes, it becomes the destination for people buy their art,” she said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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