Art on the go
By Scott Nishimura
Globe-trekking artists augment their business with travel and foodie tours
Niki Gulley and Scott Williams knew they had to give their art businesses a boost when the recession of 2008 hit. The couple — Gulley is a painter specializing in landscapes; Williams is a landscape photographer — turned to an idea from art students at Gulley’s studio.
“‘Why don’t you teach, and we’ll travel with you,’” Gulley recalls her students asking. Since then, Gulley and Williams have run 50 tours worldwide — taking artists and photographers to destinations such as Venice, where the couple and 12 students spent several days in February, melding painting and photography instruction with food, wine and sightseeing.
The result of what Williams calls “the need for another outlet” has turned into a robust business of its own called Art Treks, with the couple estimating they’ve hosted as many as 250 participants on the tours since 2009. Some customers have joined them four or five times.
Gulley and Williams, who live in a home and studio they built near Dallas’ Lakewood neighborhood, exhibit their works on a small circuit of juried shows annually, including Art in the Square, Richardson’s Cottonwood Art Festival and Fort Worth’s Main St. Arts Festival. They also hit shows in The Woodlands, Texas; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; Wisconsin; and Ohio. “Whenever we get in,” Williams says of the jury process.
The couple will be among 200 exhibitors at Southlake’s 2023 Art in the Square, April 28-30. Gulley created the show’s logo this year, and Williams is one of seven “featured artists” being honored.
Both have been in the business of art for years. “I sold my first painting over 25 years ago,” Gulley says. Williams has been a photographer for 30 years.
Gulley, who grew up in Illinois, began painting in elementary school, took art classes and later moved to Dallas, where she majored in advertising, with a minor in art at Southern Methodist University. While working as an art director at a magazine in Dallas, she began painting again in her free time. She quit her job 20 years ago and became a full-time artist, using vivid colors to create impressionist landscapes. She’s shown at galleries in New York; Palm Beach, Florida; Vail, Colorado; San Diego; and Santa Fe, as well as Austin and Fredericksburg. Gulley also taught classes for 12 years out of her studio.
Williams grew up in New York and left in 1977 to join a relative in Beaumont and enjoy better weather. He studied at Richland College in Dallas and at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he majored in business management, with a minor in photography.
Williams at one point thought he might become a physician. “I took a photo class to break up all the sciences,” he says. “I needed a break. Medical school fell by the wayside.” A connection asked if he would photograph some buildings. “They uttered the words that changed my life: ‘Can I pay you?’”
The couple’s tour business has steadily grown, despite an 18-month hiatus during COVID-19. They host an annual reunion for participants at their home, which they built eight years ago.
Early on, the tours focused on art and photography. The couple added food and sightseeing to satisfy customer requests for a broader experience. Gulley and Williams lovingly curate each travel experience, which typically includes 12 students at a time. February’s trip was the 12th time they’ve visited Venice.
Participants bring their own gear and supplies, and skill levels vary widely. It’s not unusual for a photography student to bring just a smartphone to shoot with, Williams says. “We’ve had everything from people who bring a high-end point-and-shoot to a Batman belt with eight or 10 lenses.”
“We can work with everyone,” Gulley says.
Gulley and Williams also have added trips that focus only on food and wine, built around custom chef-prepared meals, wine and cheese tastings, and trips to vineyards. “Some [trekkers] are asking to go to places we did a few years ago,” Gulley says.