by Sarah Schmerler
Andra Russek doesn’t remember the exact details of the opening day of Scheinbaum & Russek Gallery in Santa Fe in October 1980, but she does remember that it was sunny out, and that lots of people were on the front porch. Not bad, considering she was four years old. While she played outdoors (the gallery’s adobe-style dwelling was also her home), such luminaries as Paul Caponigro, Judy Dater, Willard Van Dyke, and Beaumont Newhall were in attendance. Today, Andra holds a degree in photo history from Bard, has done tours of duty with Sotheby’s and Swann Galleries, and is a certified appraiser – not to mention that she co-runs the gallery with its founders, her mother Janet Russek and step-father David Scheinbaum. After the gallery’s current exhibition (a retrospective of Sebastião Salgado) comes down on August 29, the family will hang a show honoring their 35th-anniversary, opening September 12, and many of those same people will be represented with work on the walls. “I am always told that I have the coolest parents in the world,” says Andra, “and though I know I can never be as cool as they are, I feel very, very fortunate.”
David Scheinbaum and Janet Russek both hail from Brooklyn, where they met in the late 1970s. Scheinbaum, a photographer since his youth, had a successful teaching career in New York, yet he couldn’t shake the conviction that the only way to grow his artistic vision would be to move to Santa Fe and seek out his idol Beaumont Newhall. Russek, who had recently separated from her first husband and was raising two small children (Jon and Andra) while pursuing her own career as a photographer and printmaker, was willing to let theirs become a long-distance relationship if it meant David following that dream. Newhall welcomed Scheinbaum, who went on to become his assistant for many years; and in the summer of 1980 Russek, her two children, and Scheinbaum moved into the adobe house in Santa Fe. (They married in 1982, and had a third child, Zac, in 1987).
“For us the gallery was very much an outgrowth of our photography and our mentors,” says Scheinbaum. “We always tried to balance our work and our family and give each other space.” Russek became Eliot Porter’s assistant; when she needed to go to his studio, she would bring along a crib. When Scheinbaum was teaching at the College of Santa Fe, or serving on the board of the Santa Fe Center for Photography, the crib would come into the gallery. By the mid 1980s, business was booming, and the gallery scaled up to a more commercial space in the Guadalupe neighborhood. Then, seven years later, something felt wrong. One busy weekend, Russek was making a list of tasks on a legal pad. “The list went on for three pages,” she recalls. “I said to David: Maybe we should stop being a public gallery. We’ll never get through this list and still be happy.” They scaled back from ten shows a year to four or five, and business became more internet- and client-based. And now, of course, they have Andra, who happens to be a whiz at collections management. “I’m the woman behind the curtain,” she says. “I got great experience in New York City, but I still wanted to come back home and have this be the first gallery where I worked. It’s definitely not a stuffy place.”