Business

Hudson River Gallery & Frame in Coralville touts regional artists

Its gallery is booked three years in advance

Morning light fills the gallery space at Hudson River Gallery in Coralville on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. Paintings by Rob
Morning light fills the gallery space at Hudson River Gallery in Coralville on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. Paintings by Robert Caputo are on display. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CORALVILLE — The story of Hudson River Gallery & Frame goes back to the late 1970s, when Chicago-area native Nick Hotek moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting or music.

He found a career, although it wasn’t the one he intended.

“You had to pay the rent,” Hotek recalled one recent morning. “That’s really how it started.

“I was waiting tables and doing other things, and I met this guy from Israel who had an art-supply shop and frame shop. I just started climbing the ladder from there.”

As Hotek gained experience mounting and framing, he found a specialty in conservation framing.

“The art-supply store was all pretty basic stuff,” Hotek said. “But as I got oriented, it was more about conservation, high-end.

“This guy who ended up being my partner, he’d been doing this. Through him and through some of his customers who were conservationists, I got to be one.”

Even when properly framed and displayed, art or documents can deteriorate due to environmental factors. Exposure to light can cause fading, while chemical reactions with mounting and backing materials may damage paper and canvas.

“Conservation framing” employs methods and materials to protect the framed material. Acid-free pure cotton mats and mounts prevent chemical reactions, while glazing filters ultraviolet rays and may be polarized to prevent glare.

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When Hotek and his wife decided to move back to the Midwest, they sought a place where his specialty could thrive.

“We just figured we needed a college town if we’re going to do it,” he said. “She’s from Kansas, so we had family in the Midwest. So it was going to be Madison (Wis.), Lawrence (Kan.), or Iowa City.”

The Hoteks settled on Iowa City, moving there in 1993. Hudson River opened shortly after, in a Victorian mansion on Gilbert Street in Iowa City.

The name recognizes the Hudson River School of landscape painters whose mid-19th-century work reflected a romantic view of the river above New York City. Hotek moved the business to Coralville this past January, after the mansion was sold.

The New York City-to-Iowa City move required some adjustment.

“Finding the art market was more complicated than the framing market,” Hotek said.

When he moved to Iowa, Hotek sold antique prints — “botanicals, architecturals, maps, that kind of thing,” he said.

“I didn’t really find a market for that, so I started meeting regional artists and started showing those (works). It made a lot of sense.”

That led to the gallery side of Hotek’s business. Hudson River hosts about 10 shows a year featuring regional artists.

“The gallery’s booked up three years in advance, and I get submissions from everyplace,” he said.

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“There’s really no other option like this in Iowa. I have a stable of artists that I keep, and I’m adding to that.”

That’s helped build and sustain a healthy local interest.

“There’s a world market here because of the university,” he said. “That’s all over the Corridor, not just Iowa City. The client base is anywhere from art students and on up the ladder.”

Hotek continues to work exclusively with conservation materials.

“All the mat boards I use are 100 percent cotton,” he said. “The glazing I use is UV-filtered. There’s a polarized glass that’s basically like (sunglasses’) lenses.”

Being the sole full-time employee has advantages for customers.

“For the framing, there are other independents and there are chains,” Hotek said. “The question becomes, do you want to work with the owner, or with an employee?

“I’m pretty old-school. There are computer-generated machines that do this, but I do everything by hand — I cut the glass by hand, I cut the mats by hand.”

As for the material within those frames, “it’s everything from post cards to $10,000 art works,” Hotek said.

Customer preferences have changed over 26 years.

“In framing, in the past five to 10 years it’s been very simple, modern,” Hotek said. “Black, white (frames.) Floater frames are very popular.”

As for 2020?

“It’s another calendar year,” Hotek said. “I’ve got a good lineup for the gallery over the next year.”

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AT A GLANCE

• Owner: Nick Hotek

• Business: Hudson River Gallery & Frame

• Address: 501 12th Ave., Coralville

• Phone: (319) 358-8488

• Website: hudsonrivergallery.com

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