I am a seeker. Born from hundreds of scribbled legal pad pages, plus blood, sweat, tears, and a generous supply of bourbon, Rebekah Jacob Gallery celebrates a decade of searching out the socially charged, aesthetically progressive artwork on which we have built our national reputation. The path has been far from easy, but after twenty years in the art business, I know that if you stay in it long enough, you get to the truly good stuff.
Everything starts with the art. We choose artists and estates from the American South and Caribbean Isles based on instinct, creativity, breadth of work, price point, and attitude. We aggressively mine and exhibit enlightened work that evokes the modern age of these two regions riddled with complexity and never-ending exploration, and which deeply connected via indigo, cotton, and slave trade. Whether emerging or experienced, these artists expand the conventional definitions of their medium including paintings, works on paper, photography and video.
Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, I was wholeheartedly seduced by the art of the American South both for its stunning visuals and for the great divides it addresses. Many Southern fine art photographers deeply engage in the essence of place, visually examining the relationship between past and present to make sense of the peculiarities of Southern identity. I seek out artists who stay true to their Southern roots not by solely focusing on the beauty of the landscape but also by exploring the conundrums of the place we call home. These issues of poverty, race, and inequality have become a driving point of interest for me, strongly evident in my affinity for documentary photography, whether vintage or contemporary, as it relays a strong, intricate narrative that extends beyond the place where words end. Bringing the work of Civil Rights photographers like James Karales to the forefront likewise highlights the need for continued discussion on issues that continue (unfortunately) to remain relevant today. My favorite WPA authors/photographers like Eudora Welty and Walker Evans traveled the Carolinas, capturing in words and images this land of elegant decay, still struggling to heal from the Civil War. Similarly, many contemporary photographers like Richard Sexton poignantly capture and document fading structures and archetypal characters in a way that still entrances me.
In a parallel construction, I believe that there is no more magical place on earth than Cuba. Since my early twenties, I have made it a personal mission to share the rich visual vocabulary of Cuban artists and photographers informed by centuries of cultural and political discussion. Revolutionary greats like Roberto Salas, Caralse, and Alberto Kordo helped incite the revolution in Fidel’s Cuba and made phenomenal exhibitions in my home state. Later, having become well-versed in the emerging art scene, I had the opportunity to juxtapose the work of the two regions and have curated several exhibitions of Southern and Cuban artwork in Havana and throughout the Southeast. Over the years, I have seen many of our monumentally-themed gallery projects––both exhibitions and publications—take on their own organic forms, becoming a voice for thousands who sacrificed to change the world.
After years of diligent research and honing my skills, I at last opened my dream gallery in early 2004. Rebekah Jacob Gallery began in a modest thousand square foot white box in the quiet, quaint area of lower King Street in downtown Charleston. The odds were not in my favor; at this point, neither contemporary art nor photography had a strong foothold in the Charleston market. Yet I persevered, bolstered by the entrepreneurial spirit of my father, Les Jacob, whose voice I would often hear reminding me to put my head down and get to work, no excuses. We not only survived, we thrived, and as the economy rebounded, we decided to triple our inventory and our space. Progressive art requires a progressive neighborhood, so we headed north to upper King Street, an area at the heart of the city’s creative culture renaissance. The large walls of this sexy 3,000 square foot Chelsea-like gallery were necessary to keep up with the increased production from my artists as well as the increased demand from our clients. A progressive but also an ardent preservationist, I was attracted to the traditional design by a Charleston architect that was flexible enough to allow for the modern edge instilled by my designer William Bates.
However, I failed to forecast how the mercurial rise of internet commerce and the radical redirection of marketing towards social media would dramatically affect my business. Technology trumped square footage, so I downsized our footprint and invested in our internet platform. Our physical location on Broad Street is secondary to our online presence, where the majority of our art is now sold to buyers around the world. Instead of print media buys, we focus our energies on creating an e-commerce experience that is attractive and secure.
My father said that success happens when preparation meets opportunity. I have spent my life preparing through academic training, apprenticeships, professional networking, and global travels. As Rebekah Jacob Gallery turns ten, I think he would have been proud to see my diligence has turned into a legacy.
- Rebekah Jacob