“5 things you should do to build a trusted and believable brand”, with Ivan Barnett of Patina Gallery

be sensitive to the changing times and be willing to adjust or reinvent your business if needed. We’ve been told by a collector before that we’re their favorite place. If we are a collector’s favorite place, we are favored for a reason. It’s delivering on the familiarity they’re looking for, but integrating it with something […]

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be sensitive to the changing times and be willing to adjust or reinvent your business if needed. We’ve been told by a collector before that we’re their favorite place. If we are a collector’s favorite place, we are favored for a reason. It’s delivering on the familiarity they’re looking for, but integrating it with something new. The stronger the brand, the harder it is to maintain its success. Reinvention is critical, curatorial leadership is critical and overconfidence is dangerous. It is important to realize that today’s market climate may not be tomorrow’s and definitely not next year’s. When there’s great fluctuations in the market, like the Recession of 2008, smart brands see the writing on the wall and adjust before it’s too late. During that time, I was noticing a huge fluctuation in our brick & mortar sales, and since then we have made the necessary adjustments to remain in business. It involves a brand recognizing the changing landscape and strategizing with appropriate timing.

Ihad the pleasure to interview Ivan Barnett. Ivan is the director of Patina Gallery, yet first and foremost he is an artist, having enjoyed a career as a maker for 45 years. His father, Isa Barnett, was a successful illustrator, painter and faculty member at The University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia, PA. Following the footsteps of his father, Ivan Barnett received his formal training at UArts with a focus in illustration. After graduation in 1969, he went to the US Army to serve as an illustrator at the Pentagon. In 1976, Barnett began creating garden sculptures and weather vanes, inspired by the German folk art he observed from his studio in Lancaster County, PA. His signature works blend the folk tradition of native Pennsylvania with strong, contemporary design. His work achieved a high profile in the early 1980s with recognition in Architectural Digest, House & Garden, Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful and Country Living. Today, Barnett is recognized as a leader in the country’s Contemporary Folk Art Movement and as one of the first modern, American craft artists to revive and interpret traditional, American folk forms. Collectors of his work include that of actor, Christopher Plummer, designer, Ray Eames and illustrator, Tomie dePaola. He continues to exhibit his work at Patina Gallery. Exhibitions include: In the Garden & Beyond the Sky (2017), Mobiles (2014) and Abstraction (2013) where he has shown his signature work in mobiles, collages and weathervanes. In 2012, Barnett curated a joint exhibition, Generation to Generation at UArts, featuring his own works and the works of his father, Isa Barnett. Barnett’s career has taken many courses, including: artist, advisor, writer, furniture maker and most importantly, gallery director at Patina Gallery. In 1999, he and his wife, Allison Buchsbaum-Barnett, opened Patina in Santa Fe, NM. This year, 2019, they celebrate the gallery’s 20th anniversary.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Ivan! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ichose to be an artist, I studied art, but the reality is, in order to remain an active artist, at some point in one’s life you have to learn how to be in business. When you think about it, it rather counteracts why someone may decide to pursue art. You don’t necessarily enter this practice to be a business person. So, if I fast forward through my career (that would be about 45 years) I began as a maker, trying to be self sufficient by the collages I sold. Now I am director to Patina Gallery. In that time, I learned a lot. From my experience as an active artist and maker, it helped prepare me to be a helpful, contributing asset in running a retail brand. In my early time as an artist, I was eager to learn, I asked questions, and read books on how to sustain my business.

Patina’s beginning started as a dream. Two people [my wife and I] decided to do something, where we could put our joint skills together and then go on to represent artists from around the world. We’re a unique gallery because we are artist owned and operated.

When we knew the gallery space (located in the historic downtown district of Santa Fe) was available in the winter of 1999. At that time, Allison and I bought our very first, klunky digital camera. We hadn’t signed on to rent the space yet, but were prepared to do anything to make it happen. Allison came down to the location one night, in her nightgown on a wintry, Santa Fe night to take a picture of the storefront. She took the picture home to her computer and inserted the name Patina on top, as if it were the sign over the door. Afterwards, she laminated it. We took that to our first artist fair in February of 1999 to see whose work we wanted to represent upon opening the gallery. She used the picture and showed artists what our space would look like. When you think about it, that was pretty daring, yet it was brilliant of her to do what she did. That was a powerful moment for us when we were first beginning to tell our story. We created a visual for artists to see where their work was going to be. By the time we went to the fair, I had already been an artist for 20 plus years, I knew a lot of people and I knew that world. From the beginning we earned trust. We showed that we had the business acumen to take something on like Patina. Through the years it’s been some experimentation, some trial and error, but extremely rewarding; looking at all that we’ve been able to accomplish.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the early 2000s, while the gallery was beginning to get itself situated, we lost sight of the ‘less is more’ concept when curating Patina: Distributing broad brushed negative space when giving a certain piece importance in the space. I call it “The Cluttered Year”. There was a year or so, probably between 2002 to 2003 where we were too busy with how much work we were showing. It was due to growth, we were doing well, but when I look at photographs, to this day, I think, ‘Oh my gosh, I had overstaged the gallery’. Way too many pieces at once. I was losing sight of my own principles because we were moving in an upward trajectory. We were moving so fast that I wasn’t taking the time to zoom out enough. Thankfully, I caught it pretty quickly. Maybe it went on for a year an a half until I realized and said to myself, ‘What the heck is going on…’. That was a big Oops.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

This happened a few weeks ago, opera star, Susan Graham came into the gallery. She is an international opera mezzo-soprano. She was incognito that day, had dark glasses on and a straw hat. At first I didn’t recognize her. She was just passing by, she had a performance happening the next day just up the street. Within 15 minutes of having her in the gallery, visiting and catching up (we hadn’t seen her for a year), she ends up borrowing $50,000 worth of jewelry to use in her performance. That’s how quickly that happened. The moment reveals a lot about Patina; the trust we have built and the relationships we create. I don’t believe Susan’s intial intentions when she came in was to borrow jewelry. She began to talk about the production she’s involved with, and to talk about jewelry as she has a personal affinity to making jewelry. Then Allison asked, “Susan, why don’t you wear jewelry for your performance tomorrow?” She chose her pieces and picked them up the next day for her performance at St. Francis auditorium. What’s more, she made a public announcement letting the audience know she was wearing Patina! People came in that day sharing that with us. It was an unexpected gift. When you’ve paid dues, done the work to build trust and respect with your community, it will come back to you ten-fold.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In the near future, Patina wants to organize its own brick and mortar podcast. It will be planned as a regular show where we can expand on what it is we do at Patina that makes us who we are. All the work we do at the backend is not something our visitors will immediately realize, but they can feel it as soon as they come in. In conversations with Allsion & I, in conversation with our artists and with our partners, we want to share with our community all that we do to create an experience that’s tailored specifically for them. In our internal team, it’s extended to the care we put into our writing, our photographs, our design, sales and communications.

For me as Patina’s creative director, it’s about how we can evolve our messaging for the next two decades, and elevate our story. I want to tell our story on new platforms, in different ways so that we continue to resonate with our growing audience. We have wonderful pieces here, but we need to consistently go further, deeper and remain authentic in our stories everyday. I love that for Patina, experience is not new, but there is always something there to expand upon.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

The difference is story. When you’re doing great, brand-related marketing, you are telling your own company’s story in everything you do. Through graphic design and content. In theory, your branding should be solidified before you aspire to any additional channels of marketing for your business. The story in Patina’s branding starts with who we are. Allison and I are artists who decided to open a gallery together. We both came to the plate with differing talents and together, we made it all come together. We represent nearly 100 artists from all over the world and pride ourselves with knowing how to take care of them. We give them the sensibility of being makers and knowing what they are looking for in gallerists, to whom they are now entrusting their work to. We are located in a historic and prominent destination for art, Santa Fe, NM. We are a 20 year old gallery who has been in the same place, and in a significant space, that has brought its own importance to the Santa Fe art scene.

For us, advertising is brand driven. So brand marketing or ‘branding’ builds to product marketing or ‘advertising’. Then in this specific context of advertising, in this specific channel of marketing, we are trying to create a feeling of what Patina is like. We have always done our best to integrate strong branding into our advertising. If we use the word, Soul-Stirring, then we must ask ourselves, ‘Is the imagery fit and does the design fit our criteria of what soul-stirring is?’ For us, our ad creative has to be clean, minimal, succinct and accentuating the power of our visuals. Our ad design comes with a very specific brand personality, in the way we treat graphic elements, specific fonts we utilize, color palettes, the in-house imagery we use and in the way we write for it. Our Soul-Stirring Works trademark and our logo have continuously been refined over the years to efficiently capture who we are as we have grown and evolved. We are always reminding the public in these ways that we are Patina. We are Soul-Stirring Works. After 20 years of repeating our core message, we’ve made an imprint with the public.

Right down to media collateral, our photographer works to bring out the soul of each individual work. In his way, he is telling each piece’s visual story with acknowledgement to their surfaces, complexities, shape and color. It has enabled us to be able to market our pieces like never before. We are achieving a level of depth in each individual initiative (such as taking exceptional images of the work) that will translate to our greater brand initiative.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

For a small business such as Patina, it is not an easy task, but the investment is a must. Everyone involved in the operation of a small business is more than likely responsible for multiple roles. When you’re working in a smaller environment where you are needed to be, say, a Jane or a Jack of all trades, it becomes difficult to accomplish all of what a larger company can do, given their larger abundance of resources.

So about four years ago, I decided to departmentalize the Patina staff. Before, the work allocation was not as organized. For years, our public relations was done by a wonderful sales associate. I knew that if we were going to elevate Patina to the next place, to where it needed to go to succeed, that we needed to efficiently delegate work to professionals in the field that knew how to address all that needed to be done. Compartamentalizing our team was us discovering how and where we needed to grow.

After prioritizing our goals, the investment transforms into cultivating a team who can deliver, and get Patina to where it needs to go. I look for talent, more often, talent which can be developed. As I get to know someone and see what their skills are, we have the opportunity to hone in and grow these skillsets. It is in working with my colleagues that I readily challenge them, see what they excel at and see what they’re resistant to, to then focus on where they excel and grow their abilities over time. I feel that is the investment that has to be made when I bring in new, bright colleagues to the team. I’m ready to share Patina’s 20 year story, so that they know the brand and then see where their assets lie from there. I want to see what new frontier they can help bring us to. It all goes back to creating deep impressions that enable us to give our visitors, collectors and patrons more.

Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

First, Patina consistently delivers on new and interesting things. In doing so, we change the intention of why people come visit us again and again. Not overly commercialized, but overtly remembered. We have become known for featuring the interesting and unusual. We are a gallery primarily known to show handmade jewelry and objects of fine art, however, last year we had an exhibition featuring the automobile photography of Michael Furman. A couple months later, we had an exhibition opening for the surreal, mixed media sculpture of Betsy Youngquist. After the opening of both exhibitions, these works sat next to each other in the gallery space. Rather than making it a random compilation, we went to great lengths to curate the works so that they made sense together. As if one in the same, they coalesced together in a fluid narrative amongst the other works on the floor. The trick to maintaining a successful business that visitors will want to come back to is to keep it interesting and to keep evolving our narrative. Between the Furman and Youngquist works there is a visual relationship involved that matters to the collector.

Second, while being mindful of creating great work, also be sure to measure the timing of success. As director, it is not always easy as to how I should prioritize gallery initiatives. I always have the urge to connect dots amongst my partners and business colleagues. At the end of the day, whatever we take on for the gallery always needs to come back to our core self. We are balancing doing new things, attracting our collectors with new and exciting initiatives and at the same time, being true to our brand. For the past four years, we have worked with The Santa Fe Opera to curate a jewelry exhibition inspired by an opera in their running season. We plan a pre-opening together for opera devotees where a portion of the proceeds from the evening go to support the Opera’s Technical Apprentice Program. This is an instance where we provide time and resources to create a beautiful event with amazing partners and it ultimately aligns with who we are as a brand: We commit ourselves to bettering our community through enriched relationships who share our love for beauty and art.

Third, consistency is key. At Patina, we are working at a heightened art and luxury level in the world of retail. Therefore, we must meet the high expectations that come with it. We can only let our collectors down so many times until they move on. It requires the staffing, the service and the careful selection of works we show in the gallery. We must pay extra attention to it in a world full of so much choice, available within grasp. It makes it hard to stay trusted. Every colleague needs to understand that we cannot rest on past success, we must always strive to be great and deliver in everything that we do. We are busy all year marketing our exhibitions through the year, but despite this, in between those initiatives we are actively creating collatoral for collection-based product marketing, we are elevating our web presense, and we are continuously strategizing public relations, social media, event planning and financing for the next year. To remain consistently great for our collectors, we remain one step ahead so that we can continuously deliver on their expectations and to remind them of why they keep coming back.

Fourth, maintain a level of human connection and engagement in your brand. Over 20 years, Patina has grown into Allison and my space and it has taken our personal time to get there. We are both physically here, nearly everyday to ensure that everything is right. Our patrons and collectors support us because of that. It is important that Patina’s brand culture is sustained. It is our responsibility to come in and do our best work everyday, going back to consistency. We have some collectors that have been coming back to us for the last two decades because they can count on us to always give them what they’re looking for when they come into the space: A rich experience, a lasting relationship, perhaps with Allison and I, with an artist, or even with a specific work.

Lastly, be sensitive to the changing times and be willing to adjust or reinvent your business if needed. We’ve been told by a collector before that we’re their favorite place. If we are a collector’s favorite place, we are favored for a reason. It’s delivering on the familiarity they’re looking for, but integrating it with something new. The stronger the brand, the harder it is to maintain its success. Reinvention is critical, curatorial leadership is critical and overconfidence is dangerous. It is important to realize that today’s market climate may not be tomorrow’s and definitely not next year’s. When there’s great fluctuations in the market, like the Recession of 2008, smart brands see the writing on the wall and adjust before it’s too late. During that time, I was noticing a huge fluctuation in our brick & mortar sales, and since then we have made the necessary adjustments to remain in business. It involves a brand recognizing the changing landscape and strategizing with appropriate timing.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

A company who I believe has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand is Patagonia. Patagonia goes above and beyond to deliver on their brand promise. When you look at their messaging, their commitment to supporting our environment, their decency to their employees, they consistently deliver on what they say. I imagine that a lot of their customer loyalty originates from them building a reliable reputation. For years, the company has been environmentally sensitive and involved in a way that aligns with their own authentic views and it happens to be similar views of their clientele. What specifically impresses me is their messaging. For instance, to my understanding they promise to fix any Patagonia garment, no matter how old, at no cost to the owner so that is lasts as long as it’s meant to, forever. The person who established the company saw something that was missing in the market and paved a way to fulfill that need. He is part of and understands his market. He understands what they value and understands their priorities. Patagonia has become a successful company that has become a purveyor of promise; one that delivers on both an environmental and economical promise. In doing so, they have made themselves essential to their customer.

One can replicate that in their own business by standing by your brand message, your core values and what you promise to your customer. If you falter, the customer will remember. Alternatively, if you don’t, the customer will equally remember and most likely return.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

For Patina, our sales have not necessarily been about the number of sales, but the quality of the sale. Our advertising is targeted, specific and tailored to our audience. As a company, we must always consider who we’re talking do, and through our channels of marketing, including advertising, specifically talk to them. Patina, like most other brands are not and do not need to be for everyone. As the demographics of our collectors change, so does our messaging to them. When it come to measuring that success, I have to assume, especially when it comes to print advertising that where you choose to advertise (with intention to reach your specific clientele) is going to matter. For example in our last advertisement in Santa Fe’s Trend Magazine, a publication we anticipate our clientele reads, we used a lovely picture of Allison. Afterwards we repeatedly had collectors mentioning that they saw her picture in the ad. At the end of the day for us, all of the visibility matters when measuring success.

Success in these initiatives always go back to the collector. Oftentimes, we’ll have someone come to us and say that they were touched by the beautiful design in an advertisement, or by the way we described a collection. It has been to the point where someone has said that they have saved every eblast we have sent to them. More often than not, that person does eventually buy a piece, but the real satisfaction comes from knowing we made a difference to them. Through the work that we did we made a good impression on their day and it was compelling enough for them to remember and share with us at a later time. It is brand building, and I believe that is eventually reflected in our sale numbers. Advertising is one of the many facets that leads to building a brand. The concepts individually differ but all lead to the same goal.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is absolutely part of our marketing vocabulary. It started out as something we knew we needed to adopt into our marketing efforts. Today, it has proven to be a powerful channel of marketing that’s here to stay. It has become very apparent to us that social media matters and is worth our investment. We make sure to regularly schedule content, we use a content calendar for this. We curate social media paid advertisement to support shopping and exhibition initiatives. Between our Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, we always maintain fresh, organic content. We experiment with Instagram and Facebook stories. We are now using Instagram Live as a tool to interview artists to stir excitement before an exhibition opening and to achieve a “behind the scenes” look at the work. Like anything we publish online, we are taking great care to ensure that our social media presence is a true extension of our brand. We are making sure that our messaging is not all about selling something, we are customizing an experience that is interesting, informative and beautiful to look at. It can be challenging at times because it’s been a completely different variety of platforms in which we’ve had to figure out how to efficiently tell our story. Yet, it has ultimately become a significant communications tool. That, along with our email marketing has supported our web traffic substantially.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

In a creative business, it becomes challenging at times to maintain momentum because very often you’re operating at what I would call, extreme levels.

For a business to thrive, they must go back to the principles of consistency and a willingness to reinvent if needed. Also, be willing to and have the ability to zoom in and out. It is important as well to have a team who knows how to live in both the micro and macros worlds of your brand and the market you are trying to serve.

Burnout is often a result of overexpansion of your own resources. It’s never good to reach the point of burnout. There is no objectivity there. At times it can become a period of crisis. Decision making may become ineffective. When a leader in a company comes to the point of burnout, it is recommended to know when to rest and take a break. When you allow yourself (and allow your mind) to regenerate it allows for creativity to manifest again. Perhaps take time to do activities that are more physical and less cerebral. For me, it’s to go outside, be with nature, hike. Because I’m an artist by trade, I also have the opportunity to diffuse my burnout by going into the studio and making things. We all suffer at one point or another from exhaustion.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

A movement I would inspire would be humanitarian. Really focused on the ideology that no matter who you are or where you are in the world, we are all innately the same. Humans are all driven by needs that we can all relate to — Food & water, shelter, security, love & relationship, etc. In today’s political, social climate, I believe it is important to remind us all of that. In a way, we can come back to Patina on this, we seek to satiate one’s search for beauty. Beauty, surfaces and sensations do enhance our well being; connecting on this visceral level satisfies our soul and gives us peace.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This quote by head designer of Prada and the founder of Miu Miu, Miuccia Prada has really resonated with me:

The only way to do something in depth is to work hard. The moment you stop being in love with what you’re doing and thinking it’s beautiful or rich, then you’re in danger.”

I grew up watching one of my parents [Father, Isa Barnett] live, perform, make and deliver his art. In that process, I had the privilege of meeting an array of fascinating and at times, brilliant creative people. It didn’t matter what they practiced, whether it was photography, sculpture or ceramics, the one thing they all had in common was that they were all passionately devoted to what they did. That kept the quality of their work high. As a child, my parents and their company had an impactful influence on me. I watched these individuals who were driven with passion, intent and love pursuing their artistic profession. When you stop loving what you do, (back to Prada’s quote) then it’s time to do something else. Being exposed to this mindset at a young age eventually became integrated into my DNA. When I decided to be an artist I remembered this and I believe I have brought that passion and determination to Patina in all that we’ve done to grow the brand over the last 20 years.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

If I can choose the person with whom I would have the opportunity to have lunch or breakfast with, it would be Angela Missoni, the creative director and president of legacy Italian fashion house, Missoni.

Missoni is a beautiful textile and fashion brand that I adore. The company was established in the 1950s as a family operated business. I would describe Missoni as a refined, bohemian fashion brand with garments that are treated with a heightened design sensibility. The careful attention they give to procuring unique, quality-crafted collections deeply align with our philosophy at Patina and could offer an extraordinary pairing of works.

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