Magazine Feature / People

Alumna’s passion takes her from finance to fine art

When Sandy Sardella got her business degree from DU, she expected to spend her work hours helping clients with their finances. A tax degree nearly two decades later further deepened her ties to the world of numbers.

But life has a funny way of turning out.

Back in 1989, Sardella (BSBA statistics ’68, MT accounting ’83) and her husband were tired of his odd work hours and her business trips getting in the way of their life together. She started looking for a business to buy and ended up starting an art gallery.

“I had no experience in retail, and I had no idea what I was doing,” Sardella says. “I rented a small place for a year to see if I’d like it. Eighteen years later, here I am.”

Sardella may have tentatively stepped into the art world, but today she’s firmly grounded as owner ofPismo Fine Art Glass with galleries in Denver’s Cherry Creek shopping district, Beaver Creek, Vail and Aspen. The four galleries feature jewelry, beads, furniture, paintings and sculpture created by some of the glass world’s biggest names.

Local artists had warned Sardella against focusing on glass when she first opened her mixed media gallery, but she noticed that the more glass she offered, the more she sold. Since glass was the art form she loved best, in 1995 she made it her primary focus.

One of Sardella’s business strategies is to offer a wide range of works, from small, affordable pieces to expensive, museum-quality works.

“People can enjoy Dale Chihuly and not be intimidated by the gallery because they know there’s something they can afford,” Sardella says. “I think it makes us more accessible. We’ve tried really hard to keep the quality high regardless of the price range.”

The gallery has carried works by renowned artist Chihuly for 16 years. The relationship was critical when a fire in one of the gallery’s previous Cherry Creek locations forced the business to relocate the week before Christmas 2004. The new location had a one-man show featuring Chihuly in April 2005, which helped reestablish the business. Sardella says a show with an artist of Chihuly’s stature usually takes a couple of years to set up.

Tim Lazer, a glass blower who sells to 150 galleries all over the country, has been in Pismo since Sardella saw his work in a California gallery more than a decade ago. Although the Sacramento-based artist hasn’t been to the Pismo galleries, his work is in all four.

“I talk to the [Pismo] gallery directors frequently. There is no gallery that’s more professional,” Lazer says, noting that Sardella’s “knowledge of glass, her passion and the quality of work” makes him proud to be associated with the gallery.

As a former financial consultant, Sardella hasn’t forgotten her business background, but credits it with helping her succeed.

“I enjoy this a lot more,” she says. And when she describes what she sees in glass, you begin to understand.

“It’s amazing to see what can be done with glass,” Sardella says. “It’s the beauty, the color, the reflective nature of it, the fluidity. It’s kind of magical.”

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