We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Laura Pate. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Laura below.
Laura , thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. It’s always helpful to hear about times when someone’s had to take a risk – how did they think through the decision, why did they take the risk, and what ended up happening. We’d love to hear about a risk you’ve taken.
I was 27 years old and had been working at Brown Mountain Art Restoration for five years when the owner approached me about buying the business. It was a difficult decision, one that compelled me to look back over my involvement with this thing called “the art world.” Ever since I was a small child, I wanted to be an artist. I imagined having my own gallery filled with my work, living in a garret upstairs. When not creating great art, I would drive around town in my Karmen Ghia, travel to the world’s most renowned art centers, and my life would be heaven. Then, when I attended the University of Texas at Austin as an art major, I had a rude awakening. It became apparent my work simply didn’t measure up to the amazing things many of my peers were creating. But I still loved art, especially the amazing stories behind the works. I changed my major to art history and a whole new world opened up before me. Now there was a context for all the paintings and ceramics and other objects I found so beautiful. During and after graduation, I interned at several museums. One offered me a full-time position. However, I decided not to take the job. I learned while interning that even though it was wonderful and inspiring to be surrounded by art, I wasn’t fulfilled by solely doing administrative work. I missed the tactile connection to the objects. And so I went back to doing my own art – ceramics. I worked for an amazingly talented woman who created and sold ceramics to restaurants, hotels and as corporate gifts. It was great for a while, getting my hands dirty and creating again. To supplement my income, I waited tables at a Mexican restaurant. My manager loved my work and allowed me to display pieces on the walls of the restaurant in addition to keeping my kiln in a storage room next to the kitchen. Often, I had to duck away from my tables to adjust the temperature of the kiln filled with platters and mugs for clients. I had my own key to the restaurant and I could often be found unloading the kiln at 2 am so that I could make my morning delivery of freshly fired pieces. I was always looking for creative work so that I could finally quit waiting tables and have a grownup job. So, when I read about an opening at an art restoration studio, I could hardly wait to apply. When I started working at Brown Mountain Art Restoration, I truly felt I had found my calling. Not only was I able to hold beautiful pieces of art in my hands and examine them up close, but I was also called upon to make these broken treasures whole again. Five years passed. When the owner asked if I’d like to buy the business, it was an opportunity of a lifetime. Or was it? There were so many ways it could fail. Although I had mastered many of the skills required to restore damaged works of art and I would be backed by a talented and experienced staff, the opportunity came at great risk. Not only would I be responsible for my employee’s paychecks, but I’d also be responsible for other people’s treasures, the works of art placed in our care. The monetary and historic value of some of those pieces brought to us by museums and private collectors was staggering. Business ownership is a risk in itself, especially for a young woman who had never run a business before. If we were to make a mistake cleaning a painting or repairing a 12,000-year-old Chinese pot, it would be a financial disaster. Not many people supported the idea of purchasing Brown Mountain. After all, I had no money to speak of, I worked for an hourly wage, and lived with my fiancé in a small house in a transitional neighborhood. He worked in the arts as well, so capital was definitely an issue. I wondered if the business could even exist without the founder and previous owner. She was a respected veteran restorer, and very well known in Dallas art circles. Would clients accept me in her stead? Also, when clients bring in their damaged works of art – a torn painting, a broken porcelain, a damaged heirloom – they are often in an emotionally fragile state. The client is not only looking for a competent and skilled restorer, they are also looking for a confidant, someone they can share the emotional importance of this object or the loved one they often represent. Would I be able to win their trust? I struggled with all of these concerns while deciding if I should take this enormous risk. But I had a passion for what I was doing, and I just felt in my bones buying the business was the right thing to do. So, we worked out a deal for me to buy the business. The purchase took place over five years with monthly payments. It took trust on both sides, but we were both sure it would work. Shortly after that, I bought the building, which was another new level of risk. Yes, there have been lean years. Yes, it is a struggle at times and there continue to be risks every day. But I have no regrets. Over the years, with the support of my parents, and my husband of 22 years who believed in me, and with the creative talents and loyalty of my staff, the business has grown and flourished.
Laura , love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I have 27 years of experience as a conservator of decorative arts and I’ve owned and operated Brown Mountain Art Restoration for 22 years. Brown Mountain conserves, restores and preserves both sentimental and fine art pieces. We specialize in the treatment of ceramics and porcelains, paintings, gilded frames and furniture, papier mache, wood objects, stone, ivory, glass and crystal, as well as many other objects de art. We also work on large scale projects including murals and sculptures in addition to other public works. As the owner, I am a member of the American Institute for Conservation with a Professional Associate status. I have a Specialty Certificate in the Care of Decorative Objects from The International Preservation Studies Center. I am also a member of Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance as well as a National Heritage Responder for the American Institute for Conservation. Both of these organizations specialize in aiding cultural organizations in the preparation and response to emergencies and natural disasters. My staff and I have over 75 combined years of experience treating paintings and decorative objects. I am proud of the fact that each piece that comes in to our studio is treated with the utmost care and respect. It is our mission preserve and restore the customer’s art to treasure for years to come. I am proud that we have earned our customer’s trust and respect due to our years of extensive experience and beautiful repairs.
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative?
I love my constantly changing environment. Everyday something new comes in to the studio. I enjoy discussing treatment options with the staff and deciding on best practices. Our projects are always different and that keeps the creative juices flowing.
Have you ever had to pivot?
About 7 years ago, business was really really slow. People just didn’t seem to be collecting antiques as much as they had in the past. Trends do come and go, and at that point, there just wasn’t much business. I had to adjust my thinking and figure out how to evolve my business. I began to reach out to other conservators with different specialties than mine and offer assistance on large scale projects. Since that time, I have collaborated with several different conservators and preservationists to treat public art. I am grateful for the education and experience those projects have afforded me, and it’s opened up a whole new exciting and rewarding revenue stream.
- Website: www.brownmountainrestoration.com
- Instagram: @brownmountainrestoration
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- Yelp: Brown Mountain Art Restoration