Since relocating to Mobile in 1995, October has been a wistful time for Kim Kelly. It’s when she misses her native Virginia the most.
“It can make me a little irritable. Here it is Halloween and we’re still swatting at mosquitoes,” Kelly quipped.
Last week, she slapped a new connotation onto October. Now it’s the month her latest venture, Sophiella Gallery, premiered.
“We bought this building in October last year,” husband Clark Kelly said. “We originally wanted to open in September but throttled back to a pace we could stand. We’re ready to open the right way.”
Nestled between The Haberdasher and The Haunted Book Shop (another October debut), the renovated spot at 111 Dauphin St. is just yards from Bienville Square. It’s also smack-dab in the middle of what the Kellys hope is another burst of “punctuated evolution.”
“In the next year, there should be hundreds of residential spaces available downtown, so we feel it’s going to pick up momentum. We think our timing is really good to be known as an exciting downtown art gallery of a high caliber,” Clark said.
They make no bones about Kim’s lead role in the venture. At Virginia Tech, she was a communications major with an emphasis in photography. It wasn’t long afterward she met Clark, then a Washington, D.C., accountant.
Through their early marriage and Clark’s radical shift in jobs — from CPA to F-16 fighter pilot — they kept a darkroom in the house. As they moved around the world, Kim developed her instincts.
“Street photography is my favorite genre because you’re waiting for the unexpected, whether it’s a person walking into a scene or a bird flying by or anything that makes the frame interesting. I got a lot of practice in Madrid,” Kim said.
The practice is irreplaceable. It builds a knack for spontaneous composition and light evaluation, the “eye” to see it in the moment, to anticipate and capture.
Once out of the Air Force, Clark heard the call of hometown Mobile and entered his father’s business in 1995. As he made a living in industrial sales, Kim concentrated on portrait work.
“She probably shot 300 families, usually in black and white and on fiber-based paper, all while I was working. That’s tough for a young mother,” Clark said.
The dynamic has now shifted. Their kids are in their 20s — one attends law school at Georgetown, another attends Auburn and another is a musician in Nashville. Clark sold the family business after 22 years.
They’d collected work by local artists for years and had connections in those circles. Before long, they were assessing spaces, willing to let Kim’s predilections lead the way. The Kellys turned to architect Steve Stone for plans and to Stephen McNair for help with historic restoration tax credits.
Kim’s first curated show opened Oct. 3. Most of its names are well known in the area: William Nolen-Schmidt, Joy Gardner, Missy Patrick, Randy Moberg, Mary Elizabeth Kimbrough, Ardith Goodwin, Brad Robertson, Colleen Comer, Anna-Marie Babington and Mary Ball.
“Basically they were friends of mine or close acquaintances I just felt like needed a chance to be showcased,” Kim said. “I knew Anna-Marie’s family and Mary Ball played tennis with my daughter, so I have a direct link to each person in this show.”
The Kellys aim to heighten awareness of homegrown talent. They also want to cultivate new habits among Mobilians, to move them into a new phase.
“I think Mobile is ready for something like this,” Kim said. “One of our ideas is to help Mobilians think of themselves as art buyers instead of just going to Artwalk and just walking around, which is great, but consider walking in a gallery and actually possibly purchasing something. It can be done. It’s done in New Orleans. Other markets our size do it.”
As for Kim’s photography, it undoubtedly will reach eyes through the gallery and beyond Instagram. It seems a natural outlet for someone admittedly reluctant to embrace digital technology. Now, she sees it as just another toolbox and even sheepishly nods to employing her iPhone, the Kodak Brownie of the modern age.
And the gallery name?
“Sophie and Ella are our grandmothers’ names,” Clark said. “Kim always wanted to use them for one of our daughters but we never got to do it. She decided to jam them together to stir up curiosity.”
Whaddaya know — they ended up on a Kelly collaborative creation anyway.
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