Houston’s Koelsch Gallery is a haven for art and fashion

How is it that Catherine Colangelo and Franny Koelsch have never joined forces before? The outsider artist and the outsider art dealer are both veteran fixtures of the Houston art scene, but their creative paths haven’t crossed. That is, until now. Today, Colangelo premieres Catherine Colangelo: star guardians at Koelsch Gallery, the boutique art gallery Koelsch runs in Montrose. The show will be on display through Saturday, June 17. 

For guardians, Colangelo once again uses gouache and graphite to make kaleidoscopic images. She mostly designed these pieces as “metaphysical protection devices” for her college-age daughter. “I started painting these shield paintings that were kind of made like talismans, to protect her,” says Colangelo, 53, on a Zoom call. “When your kid is little-bitty, you can physically protect them from falling off the slide at the playground. But when they get older, you can’t really do that as a parent. So I’ve always kind of been attracted to the idea of artwork that’s used for healing or as protection devices.”

Colangelo also drew influence for guardians from her college professors, feminists who were part of the Pattern and Decoration movement of the ’70s, as well as books on Ethiopian magic scrolls. “The busy-ness of the patterns and the recurring theme of watchful eyes and zigzag shapes are things that are supposed to confuse evil spirits in these Ethiopian magic scrolls,” she says. “I also really like working with color and thinking about how it can kind of help to uplift you when you’re going through troubling times.”

Although it’s her first time at Koelsch, Colangelo is no stranger to the Montrose area. She’s had work shown at the Art League Houston (which is down the street from Koelsch), and held shows at Cindy Lisica Gallery and DARKE Gallery, two Montrose spots that closed up shop a long time ago. “They all tend to either close or retire on me,” says Colangelo, laughing. “So I’m hoping this association will last for a long time.”

Considering how Koelsch has been running the gallery for nearly three decades, this could very well be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Along with husband John Jefferies, Koelsch brings in artwork from both inside and outside of state borders. For a time, she didn’t think she was sophisticated or wealthy enough to collect art, until she bought a couple pieces by the late San Antonio artist Frank Freed at a benefit auction. “I had grown up with a relative of the de Menils, and I really noticed their art collection,” says Koelsch, 55, also via Zoom. “I thought it was fabulous, but I thought you had to be a de Menil to live with art.”

One of the pieces featured in the new exhibit Catherine Colangelo: star guardians at Koelsch Gallery

Catherine Colangelo

So how has Koelsch kept a gallery (which has moved several times in the Montrose area) afloat for so long? Well, when times changed, she knew she had to change with it. This was especially true during COVID, when she had to do most of her showcasing online. “It was an opportunity for us to learn to become a lot more electronic,” she says. “I learned through the COVID shutdown how you really can experience art if you’re at home.” 

Whether it comes from a trained or untrained artist, Koelsch likes art that’s detail-oriented and tells a story. And she immediately saw that in Colangelo’s pieces. “One of the things that really, really appealed to me is that it looks like it’s collage, almost,” says Koelsch. “But the meticulous details of her painting, and the patterns, were really intriguing to me.”

Koelsch and Jeffries also run Ears of Buddha, a boutique clothing store nestled inside the gallery. As someone with a storied fashion background (she got dual degrees in fashion merchandising and art history from University of Texas and has worked at Barneys, Tootsies, and Cotton Club), Koelsch got the itch to get in back in the clothing game five years ago. “I always kept enjoying fashion and enjoyed coming up with outfits that went with the exhibits,” she says. “All of the sudden, I just started designing again.”

One of the pieces featured in the new exhibit Catherine Colangelo: star guardians at Koelsch Gallery

One of the pieces featured in the new exhibit Catherine Colangelo: star guardians at Koelsch Gallery

Catherine Colangelo

Colangelo has also been coming up with her own clothing designs. She will be selling $125 scarves that feature imagery from her paintings at the gallery. She says, “My work has a lot of influence from textiles and for years people have been saying, ‘You should make scarves out of these!’ So I finally did it, and people seem to love them.” 

Koelsch is definitely one of them. She’s glad there’s another creative local selling funky, folksy threads to go with her funky, folksy art. “To me, art and fashion are so close,” says Koelsch. “It’s really wonderful to see a wearable piece of art.”

Catherine Colangelo: star guardians runs until June 17 at Koelsch Gallery, 1020 Peden St, Houston, TX 77006. Admission is free. For more information, visit the gallery’s website.

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