The fine art of retirement

John Davis, owner of the prestigious Davis & Cline Gallery in Ashland, plans to retire after November and is selling the gallery.

Located at the corner of A and Fourth streets, the business has long been the anchor of a gallery cluster in Ashland's Historic Railroad District.

Davis & Cline exhibits are a must-see for many local art enthusiasts and tourists.

Davis is known for his uncluttered exhibits and stable of nationally and internationally known artists.

Local artist Jhenna Quinn Lewis, who is represented by the gallery, said she is saddened over Davis' pending retirement.

"It's an ending of an era in some ways," she said.

Quinn Lewis said people would have to travel to a large city to see the kind of classic, austere exhibits Davis stages.

"The gallery is like a respite from hectic life. You could walk into his gallery and have this wonderful silence and beautiful art. It was almost like meditating," she said. "You could always be assured of seeing work of the highest quality."

Davis opened the business in 1998 with the intent of showing custom furniture that he designed, along with furniture pieces by others. He and his business partner at that time, Mike Cline, lent their names to the enterprise.

"I said, 'We need something for the walls,' " Davis recalled.

Soon Davis was taking the business in a new, fine-arts direction. Cline departed, and within two years, the furniture in the gallery was gone — except for a few pieces, including a large desk of wood and reclaimed metal that still sits in Davis' office.

In 2000, Chandra Holsten, who recently had retired to Ashland after owning galleries in Massachusetts and Florida, joined Davis & Cline as gallery director.

She brought in the work of major American and international glass artists, including Dale Chihuly, famous throughout the art world for his vibrant, organically shaped glass sculptures.

Josine Ianco-Starrels, who built a reputation as a discerning museum curator and was often featured in the Los Angeles Times, moved to the Rogue Valley, met Davis and introduced him to artists and galleries in Southern California.

Holsten said Davis & Cline Gallery had turned a corner, becoming home to accomplished artists who had heard of the gallery's growing reputation.

Davis said he always has looked for key qualities when selecting artists for the gallery. Their work must show a unique world view, innovative use of media, obsessive workmanship, contemporary relevance and beauty.

Although the gallery always has been profitable, Davis said it was faced with challenges during the recent economic downturn.

Some galleries closed, but Davis & Cline tapped into its networks to bring in guest artists while also staying loyal to its roster of regular artists.

Rotating guest artist exhibits kept the gallery fresh for its customers — 90 percent of whom come from outside the local area, Davis said.

With the gallery now for sale, Davis said a few parties have expressed interest in buying the business, which includes a client list and the potential to keep the artists who want to stay with the new owner.

"All you have to do is turn on the lights and be a gallery owner," he said.

Davis, who will soon turn 70 years old, said being a gallery owner can be physically demanding.

Paintings must be hung and sculptures put on display, and with many customers and gallery artists located outside the Rogue Valley, packing and shipping is a major part of the job, he said.

After retiring, Davis said he is looking forward to spending his time as he wishes, especially summers — the peak season for galleries.

His son graduated from Ashland High School and recently started college in California. His wife, longtime Ashland School District and city volunteer Carol Davis, accepted an architecture job in the San Francisco Bay Area.

She has an apartment there. The Davises are maintaining their home in Ashland with a plan to eventually be in retirement here together, John Davis said.

He said being a gallery owner has been exceptionally rewarding.

"It's absolutely the most extraordinary thing I've done in my life. It's the pinnacle," he said. "I've called all the artists and told them what a privilege it's been to have their art and to know them. To talk about and sell their art is such a privilege."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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