The memory may be distant, but some long-time Chicagoans will recall that in its heyday, the old Marshall Field’s department store sold fine works of art, in addition to perfume, clothing, and Frango mint chocolates.
If you wandered into the department store’s flagship location on State Street in the early ’90s and checked out the collection of paintings available for sale, it’s likely they were selected by David Manola.
Manola, a native of Oak Park and graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, cut his teeth in the art world as a buyer for Marshall Field’s and Company. When the company began going through mergers and takeovers in the mid ’90s, Manola decided to start his own gallery, Boulevard Fine Art. He also wanted to celebrate artists in addition to being involved in the business. Originally located in Oak Park, the 25-year-old gallery has been in Clarendon Hills for the last 15 years.
“I was able to walk into places and they would remember me as the buyer for Marshall Field’s,” Manola says. “So, we opened in Oak Park for 10 years and have been in Clarendon Hills ever since.”
Boulevard represents more than 50 artists from around the globe with a broad range of styles, from traditional to contemporary. The gallery also offers framing services. Rare among galleries, it takes a personal approach to working with clients.
“We are kind of unique in that most of our sales are in-home consultations,” says Manola. “Even through this COVID-19 craziness we’ve stayed really busy because so many people are in their homes and realizing their homes are important.”
One of the benefits of working with the gallery is the ability of clients to “test drive” artwork, installing it at home and getting a sense of how it looks throughout the day and in different light. If a client is not happy with it, or a family member objects, they can return the piece, although that’s rare.
While framing is a smaller piece of the gallery’s overall business, it offers framing services using all the top frame brands, and Manola says he’s seeing an increase in business from customers who want to frame keepsakes and family photos, perhaps driven by a reaction to the pandemic.
“When I was putting myself through the Art Institute of Chicago, I worked at a lot of custom framing shops,” says Manola. “Framing is a great draw because people aren’t necessarily looking for artwork all the time.”
While many galleries might focus on a particular genre of art or painting, Manola says there’s great diversity among the artists he represents, while conceding tastes the last few years have leaned toward more contemporary styles.
“One of our strengths is that we deal with all different types of artwork, from traditional French to contemporary art,” he says. “But the past two years contemporary, abstract, modern art has definitely dominated.”
There’s no question that throughout history, particularly through difficult times, art has been both an inspiration and a comfort. While we can’t predict the future, Manola recognizes the current moment in history.
“It does seem like people are thinking more about life, about their homes, about their families, about what’s important to them,” he says. “People are trying to be more aware of what’s around them.”
Boulevard Fine Art is located at 217 Burlington Ave. in Clarendon Hills, 640-468-5500, boulevardfineart.com.