Women find strength in unity with Manitou galleries

NED B. HUNTER Updated: December 27, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 27, 2012

Patrice “Patti” Filler  wanted to open an art galley.

A 20-year veteran of the arts, Filler’s friends said her work was good enough to support her and a gallery.  

But Filler’s fears kept saying, “No.” She was almost 60 and her tolerance for financial risk was fading fast.

She finally was pushed into business ownership not by friends, but by a Vincent Van Gogh quote inscribed inside a juice drink’s bottle cap.

“It said, ‘If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint then by all means paint,’” Filler said, “and that voice will be silenced.”

Today, Filler owns a Manitou Springs art gallery that supports not only her own works, but those of three other women who have joined Filler to create a gallery and retail boutique of paintings, jewelry, glass pottery and other works created by themselves and other artists.

Filler, 60,  owns Fare Bella, which means “create beauty” in Italian. Nancye  Culbreath, 60,  owns Edge, a fine art and custom framing company. Tracy Miller, 49,  owns Tracy Miller Study/Gallery. And Heidi Morgan, 43, owns Heidi Morgan Fine Art.

The four galleries are combined into two storefronts at 14-16 Ruxton Avenue  in Manitou Springs. The building is owned by Fred Lutze while Filler holds the lease and the other women pay a rent to show their art.  

The first thing one sees, and hears, stepping into the gallery is Fuzzy, a yappy, tan and white miniature Pomeranian. The 4-pound dog constantly roams the gallery, wrapping himself around the feet of visitors, artists and Filler, her owner.  

The dog’s constant energy may be fed by the vibrant pastels, watercolors and  acrylic hues that blaze from paintings and pottery displayed throughout the gallery. The paintings are as diverse a mixture of individuality and creativity as the women themselves. Yet their artworks weave together flawlessly, evidence of the indelible bond the artists have created with each other.

“People want to think that women don’t get along, but here we watch each others back,” Miller said, “and here, if someone is having an issue, we will cover for them, and we just genuinely like each other.”

The support for each other was never more apparent than after the Waldo Canyon fire, Miller said. The fire scared off visitors and pounded Manitou Springs’ economy, making it almost impossible for the women to earn enough to pay their bills for a time. Miller said having the other artists to talk about the shared difficulty made it easier to cope and recover.

But Culbreath said the women’s relationships go far beyond simple handholding.

“We respect each other for their particular journey in the art world,” she said. “It’s not to say that everything is always wonderful, but it is never said that, ‘Oh, I can’t go in today because so and so will be there.’”

Joining together also helps the financial side.

“No one wants to go into business and spend every dime they make on overhead,” said Miller, who has a son and daughter. “I want to contribute to my family financially, and this situation lets me do that.”

Filler opened her gallery at 14 Ruxton Ave. for $20,000 in October 2007. Two years later, she spent another $6,000 and knocked out a wall to add 16 Ruxton. The other women joined one by one — first Culbreath, then Miller and, just this past summer, Morgan.

While the message on the bottle cap may have convinced Filler to open her gallery, it was her father who instilled her penchant for risk at a young age. Filler grew up in Taos, N.M., where her father, Richard Latka abandoned a lucrative lumber yard business to follow a dream of becoming an artist.

“I saw that vision and his struggles, and he was a happy camper, and we had a lot of love,” Filler said. “When I finally realized what he had done, I realized really that it is not about how much money you have. It is about feeling fulfilled.”

Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.

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