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The many roles of Nevada Fine Arts

By Nora Tarte
Published: Last Updated on

It might be easiest to think of Nevada Fine Arts as six businesses in one—an art supply store, a gallery, a classroom, a gift shop, a frame store and a printing and photography service center catering to artists.

That all being said, it started as a frame shop in 1969.

If you ask Mark Hammon, he’ll tell you he’s the third-and-a-half owner of the store.

That’s because he bought into the business after marrying his wife, Debbie Wolf, the official third owner who bought the business in 2002.

Before that, two other people had been in charge of the blossoming shop that once existed on Fourth Street but has called 1301 S. Virginia St. in Midtown home since 2007.

“At this time, art supplies represent more business than our framing does,” Hammon says. Although he admits corporate framing is still a significant part of the revenue stream.

Over the 53 years it has been in business, Nevada Fine Arts has undergone several expansions. The art store has added classes in a myriad of disciplines including everything from drawing and watercolor to palette knife painting taught by local Piper Johnson. 

The business model, Hammon says, was created to favor the teachers who set their own prices for the class and decide how to handle materials. The fee to Nevada Fine Arts is the same, so the instructors really get to choose how much they make.

The biggest perk for Nevada Fine Arts is often just bringing new customers into the shop.

While they have a few local artists who teach regularly, Hammon says they are in need of more.

A classroom space at Nevada Fine Arts allows local artists to teach others, which Mark Hammon says is part of the shop’s business model. Image: Nora Tarte / This Is Reno

There is also an on-site gallery downstairs, open just about any time the shop is (outside of the last three or four days of a show when they are turning it over to a new set of artists).

Every month, there is a Saturday event where the showing artists convene and interested parties can come in, chat with them, view the art and have light snacks and drinks. 

“It’s an opportunity for emerging artists to get work in a gallery space,” Hammon says, adding they have artists of varying pedigrees but almost all are locals to Reno and Tahoe. 

For two months of the year, November and December, every piece of art in the gallery is available at retail for $100 or less to encourage gift giving during the holiday season.

Those that create often need a place to turn out high quality prints of their works to sell at a lower price point or photos of a piece that they can place on their website. The concierge services at Nevada Fine Arts provide this. 

“We do the work for them,” Hammon says.

The magic all happens downstairs where a basement space houses work tables for staff, two large format printers and a small photography studio complete with all of the necessary (and very expensive) equipment.

A wall of paint options at Nevada Fine Arts, which touts the largest selection of art supplies in northern Nevada.
A wall of paint options at Nevada Fine Arts, which touts the largest selection of art supplies in northern Nevada. Image: Nora Tarte / This Is Reno

When it comes to inventory, Wolf and Hammon, who are both artists themselves, say they stock a good, better and best of each product. “We have some of the lower end [products], mainly for kids,” Hammon says.

And everyone else who works at Nevada Fine Arts is an artist, too, a change Hammon was passionate about implementing when he came on.

This, in his opinion, offers another level of customer service where customers can enjoy the knowledge of those helping them to shop.

It’s one way Nevada Fine Arts eliminates the competition. 

Known as the largest art supply store in northern Nevada with 18,000 SKUs, Hammon says other shops don’t carry the same range of products they do or staff artists to sell them. 

“I kind of consider us the only real art supply store [in northern Nevada],” he says. 

Hammon and Wolf also have extensive knowledge. Wolf is a published artist who first worked in graphic design and taught kids art before buying Nevada Fine Arts with her previous husband. She works mainly in mixed media, photography and encaustic painting (or painting with wax). Hammon made his living working with computers but dabbled in photography from the age of 5.

“All that dabbling with art kind of came back to the surface,” Hammon says of getting into the business. Now he draws, paints and does watercolors. He also creates jewelry—including a piece that ended up in the Smithsonian—but if you ask him, he’s no jeweler.

Instead, jewelry making is a hobby—one that includes giving away 50-200 pieces every year at Burning Man when he’s in attendance as part of the Burning Man Documentation Team, employed officially by the Burning Man organization. 

Part art store, part gallery, part gift shop — Nevada Fine Arts is a multi-faceted business that’s been in Reno since 1969. Image: Nora Tarte / This Is Reno

It’s just a side hustle for the duo who attend the playa’s biggest event each year to take photos and videos. Some end up in publications across the country, credited to Wolf and Hammon. Others make the gallery circuits.

Newer to the store is a range of high-end fountain pens and stationery, items that seem to be in demand after several of the local stationery shops in Reno closed. “We try to keep an idea of what people’s needs are and expanding what art is,” Hammon says.

And the building itself feels a bit like a work of art. You walk in the front door to the retail operations and in the back is a large, open-concept art studio where classes are taught. Upstairs, Hammon has an office and downstairs there is an artist studio and gallery.

The odd juxtaposition of the space can be attributed to its former use as a local bank. It’s also listed as one of Reno’s haunted places, with many claiming the faces of demons were visible in some of the original detail work, giving just one more type of clientele an excuse to stop into the space.

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