All the locals know where Shidoni Inc., is -- in the tiny town of Tesuque (it rhymes with Suzuki), five miles north of Santa Fe, N.Mex. Just swing around what was once Art's Market, past the Duchess of Windsor's hideaway, and not far from Sam (Shepard) and Jessica's (Lange) adobe. You can't miss it. It is the old chicken farm with all the sculptures in the front yard, across from singer Roger Miller's house. Here, on this eight-acre lot, which is planted with huge bronze castings and metal fabrications, is a fine-arts foundry and gallery that has positioned itself as a one-stop shopping center for corporate, municipal, and institutional art.
Not only does Shidoni cast and construct sculptures, and provide both indoor and outdoor gallery space from which to sell them, the $1.3-million company functions as a matchmaker between wouldbe customers and artists willing to work to their specifications. Shidoni also installs the finished product, and consults on the acquisition of smaller sculptures or two-dimensional art to complete the building decor. There are other fine-art foundries in the nation, some of which enjoy loftier reputations, and there is certainly no shortage of galleries or art consultants available to corporate decorators and developers. But Shidoni is one place that does it all.
It is a far more ambitious operation than the small studio and foundry that sculptor T. C. "Tommy" Hicks envisioned when he founded Shidoni 14 years ago. Like most of the 30-some ragtag artists who now work for him, Hicks came to Santa Fe with the aim of capturing the shapes and colors of the high desert -- not to mention the attention of the many art fanciers who populate this retreat for the rich. Having been convinced by an experience with a failed consortium of creative people and corporate executives that "art and business don't mix," Hicks bought up the group's land, vowing to concentrate on the former. But, as Shidoni grew, he found he couldn't escape the latter.
"If you're really as committed as I am to promoting big, publicly accessible art, you've got to get it out there and show it," explains Hicks as he wheels a golf cart around and under sculptures that stretch as high as 30 feet into the sky. "But you can't show art unless you show a profit."
And he does, thanks to Shidoni's outdoor gallery -- the largest of its kind in the country. Once merely a roadside attraction for local schoolchildren and private collectors, this open-air display case has netted Shidoni pages of unsolicited publicity. As a result, Hicks's sculpture farm has been added to the must-see list of many a professional art buyer, particularly those in the Southwest.
Traffic thus established, Hicks next moved to solidify his hold on his growing business by spending $400,000 to build the 5,000-square-foot indoor gallery, adding paintings to his repertoire. He also established a slide portfolio of more than 60 sculptors, from which prospective customers can commission any work they might not see on the premises. Shidoni (the word is a friendly greeting in the Navajo tongue) now boasts art on display in locations as diverse as The U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City, the campus of UCLA, and a natural history museum in Albuquerque, as well as in other public and corporate buildings from Alaska to Florida.
The next phase in Shidoni's evolution will be to expand beyond the accessible markets of the West and Southwest, and to open Shidoni East -- an office and outdoor gallery that will concentrate on marketing art to the belt-line developers of the Eastern Seaboard. In preparation for the move, Hicks is pushing for more productivity from this very labor-intensive business. He also has his top people -- whom he says are far better marketers than he -- soliciting customers by mail, and enlisting new artists by telephone. If any further proof is needed that he has abandoned his "art and business don't mix" philosophy, the fact that Hicks is currently seeking investors among Santa Fe's leading financiers ought to erase any doubts.
"Tesuque isn't exactly down the street," he says. "Not everybody's going to come to Shidoni to buy art. So, if we're going to continue to grow, we're just going to have to bring Shidoni to them."
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