CHATHAM – In 1985, artist Debbie Hearle and her husband Ron took a chance and bought an 1850s-era building at 488 Main St. and opened a gallery. They'd never operated one before, but felt the opportunity was just too good to pass up.
“We teamed up to do it,” Debbie Hearle said, adding that their two boys, pre-teens at the time, also pitched in.
Thirty-five years later, the Hearle Gallery is a Main Street mainstay with loyal clientele from all over the world, and sometimes the couple's granddaughters help out in the shop. But on Dec. 31, the gallery will close its doors.
“We'd considered it for a few years,” Debbie said. “But we kept going. We figured we'd know.” This summer they made the decision to “quite while we're on top and could still enjoy life.”
“We have a bucket list that's yards and yards long,” she said. “We'll certainly miss the interaction” with clients, she added.
Hearle's marine paintings, landscapes and Cape Cod scenes cover almost every inch of the gallery's walls (along with works by several other local artists). While she works in oils now, when she opened the gallery she worked mostly in watercolors. She found, however, that Cape clients liked oils better because of the light here.
Running a gallery also hasn't diminished her output; painting is something she can't not do, she said, and she's always thinking about subject and compositions whether she's helping a client or jogging near her North Chatham home.
“I paint things that I love,” she said, adding that her style and subject matter evolved over the years. “Really wherever I am I'm always thinking about it.”
It also helps that both she and Ron love to meet and work with people. “We really cherish our relationships,” she said. And they've built many with clients over the years, many of whom return to the gallery year after year. One cried when Debbie told her the gallery was closing.
“You treat people the way you want to be treated,” is the way Ron describes their approach.
When they bought the gallery, they'd only just moved to Chatham from New York. Debbie had vacationed on the Cape as a child and later with her family. She was displaying her work at another local gallery, the Dodge House, when she saw a for sale sign on the 488 Main St. building; it was a shop at the time. She told Ron later that night and they agreed the opportunity was too good to pass up.
Hearle plans to continue selling her work at thehearlegallery.com and is “certainly not going to stop painting.” And the space will also continue to feature her work—at least some of it.
A year ago, her son Todd purchased the Chatham Squire, directly across the street from the gallery. By this summer, the gallery will reopen as the Squire shop, selling the restaurant's merchandise—and a number of prints Debbie Hearle has done of the Chatham landmark.
“It's nice to know he's going to be the custodian of this building,” she said.
Closing the gallery after more than three decades is bittersweet, but Hearle said she's looking forward to a new chapter and new experiences.
“We've been very, very fortunate,” she said.