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Garbo Hearne: A Force of Nature


Garbo Hearne

by Gregory Graham

According to self-help guru Tony Robbins, “people who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed.” The story of Garbo Hearne is a story of one success building on another for the past 30 years. Step-by-step, Hearne and her husband, Dr. Archie Hearne, have expanded their companion businesses Hearne Fine Art Gallery and Pyramid Art, Books, and Custom Framing into enterprises that not only impact the historic Dunbar neighborhood in which they are based, but the entire state of Arkansas and beyond.

It all began 30 years ago, in 1988, when Hearne and her husband saw a lack of exposure in Arkansas to African American culture through art. They decided to fill that void. At the time, Archie was (and still is) a family medicine doctor, and Garbo was a pediatric intensive care nurse. Though Garbo continues to maintain her license as a nurse, she left her career as a full-time nurse in ’88 to blaze a new trail. Initially they opened a shop in a small space at 12thand Fair Park selling decorative art and fine art from local African American artists. Though part of Garbo’s motivation for leaving her full-time nursing career was to have more time with her children, she notes about her business, “Little did I know this would be another child I’d have to raise.” They soon moved to a bigger and better space on South Main Street.

Starting from scratch, Garbo threw herself into the world of African American art, seeking to learn from the best. “We met African American artist Frank Frazier at a conference in Dallas, and he introduced us to numerous other outstanding African American artists.” It didn’t take Garbo long to develop a deep allegiance to African American culture. “I found a culture that I love representing,” she says. “I’ll probably do it forever.”

In the first few years that her shop was open, Garbo decided to add custom framing to her tool belt, and so she started taking master framing classes at U-Frame-It, studying under several master framers, including the renowned Larson Juhl. Once she felt confident in her skill as a framer, Garbo decided to add custom framing to her art business. “My husband bought some framing equipment from a frame shop that was going out of business,” Garbo says, and so their business expanded. “Framing is a major, major part of what we do.” Garbo hired Randy Taylor as a framer in 1994. Taylor graduated from UALR with a BS in microbiology, but he remains with Pyramid Art, Books, and Custom Framing to this day. “I keep thinking he should go on to bigger and better things, because he’s brilliant. But he has such an amazing talent as a framer.”

In 1999, the Hearnes expanded further, moving to the Museum Center in the River Market and separating their business into two different entities. Pyramid Gallery and Books became Pyramid Art, Books, and Custom Framing and Hearne Fine Art. Garbo continued to enlarge her network with African American artists, ranging from emerging to established to master artists, and she continued to develop her eye for fine art. In 2004, Garbo took a six-week intensive course at New York University and earned her appraiser certification. Her work with the world of African American art was expanding, and so was her vision for a place to display it.

In 2009, the Hearne’s vision for an ideal location for their shop and gallery became reality. “We had 20 years to think about everything we wanted in a location,” Garbo says. The Hearnes purchased property at 1001 Wright Avenue, in the center of Dunbar School Neighborhood Historic District, the oldest African American neighborhood in Arkansas, and built a building to house Archie’s medical practice as well as Pyramid Art, Books, and Custom Framing and Hearne Fine Art Gallery. Garbo says “we moved into this community primarily because we wanted to be in an African American community that had a lot of history, and this is an excellent location right across the street from historic Dunbar school and Sue Cowan Williams library.

The space is top class all the way, filled with profound art depicting multiple perspectives on the African American experience. The gallery itself tells a riveting story, and calls visitors to deep reflection. “All the artists we feature have to paint,” Garbo says. “They just need somewhere to sell their art. It’s a privilege to provide that.” The Hearnes are using the space to educate students right there in their community, but their reach goes far beyond their neighborhood. “Our art is published on our website,” Garbo says. “We sell to collectors all over the country.”

In 2014, Garbo was certified as an appraiser of African American art, amplifying her gravitas in the field. That same year, Garbo joined with Mitch Mitchell of Fayetteville to found the Arkansas for the Arts nonprofit organization, which advocates for the advancement of the arts, arts education, and the creative economy in Arkansas. Garbo is currently the chairman of the board. With the help of state Senator Joyce Elliot, the organization recently succeeded in convincing several Arkansas legislators to establish a bipartisan caucus for the arts. Garbo’s influence continues to grow.

Momentum is defined by Webster’s as “strength or force gained by motion.” Garbo Hearne is certainly in constant motion, and she is a force of nature with an ever-increasing impact. Even with all her success, she exudes humility and grace. When interviewing for this article, her husband Archie walked into the room. “He’s the one you ought to be interviewing,” Garbo remarked. And she insisted that credit be given to the artists she works with as well as her staff. “Our survival is due to the excellence of the artists and authors we represent, a dedicated and loyal staff, and the evolution of our customer base that forced us to grow and diversify.”

This is the story of the growth of a person as well as a business. As Garbo puts it, she’s “always trying to take it to the next level.”

READ MORE: Established Companies Should Think Like a Startup

Image courtesy of Garbo Hearne (Facebook)

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