In a town dominated by contemporary art galleries, art dealer Melissa Williams says her gallery stands out because it’s filled with “old art.” Williams specializes in buying artworks from the 19th to mid-20th centuries and finding them new homes. Melissa Williams Fine Art occupies an unassuming space above Bluestem Missouri Crafts. Doug Solliday, who runs an antique business, shares the space with Williams and sells furniture, handmade ceramics and more. “She is the consummate professional,” Solliday says. “She is unbelievably smart; she has brilliant ideas, an endless source of energy.” Williams is a Columbia native who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art history from MU, and work from her gallery has been purchased by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
How would you describe the kind of art that normally is in your gallery?
I collect rare and hard-to-find images from about 1800 to 1960. I’m interested in everything — paintings, drawings, watercolors. I like abstraction, figure studies, landscapes.
How does being in the Midwest influence the art you collect?
I think that if you sell to people, they’re always trying to mitigate between some deep part of themselves and where they live. So, if they live in a brand new contemporary home, they might just be interested in contemporary paintings. There’s a lot of traditional homes in Missouri, and I think those people will often look at traditional paintings.
What is the coolest artwork you’ve gotten your hands on?
Well, I’ll tell you the thing I’m most in love with right now. It’s a picture of his (artist Mauricio Lasansky’s) wife and son, Thomas. She is about 7 1/2 feet tall (in the image), and there’s so much power to it, but it’s a power of gentleness rather than of strength. He was from Argentina, came to the University of Iowa, and that became the hottest place in the world to study printmaking because he was such a master. It’s an etching, but he printed about 10 of them, and one of them is in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
What advice would you give to an aspiring art dealer?
I think it’s an act of love. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. All your vacations will be going to look at art. But it’s really captivating and absorbing. I have a ton of energy for what I do — looking at art, talking about art. It’s endlessly fascinating to me.