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Killetts closing Front Street gallery after 44 years

By Staff | Mar 12, 2020

Jim and Nancy Killett today.

LAHAINA – After 44 years in business in town, Lahaina Galleries will bid aloha with a big party on “Friday Night is Art Night” on March 13 from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at the 736 Front St. gallery.

“We plan to have great bargains from many artists, as we need to clear out our 4,000-square-foot gallery. There to meet the public will be artists Robert Lyn Nelson, Lori Wylie, Ronaldo Macedo, Dario Campanile, Steve Turnbull and Andrea Razzauti,” explained owner Jim Killett, who founded Lahaina Galleries with his wife, Nancy.

“On Friday, we plan to have all the local artists there plus a few surprises, possible giveaways. Wine, pupus, maybe a cake and warm memories will be served,” added son Beau Killett, who works in marketing and social media for the company.

The family is closing the Lahaina gallery because their lease is expiring, and they couldn’t find any other suitable options.

Lahaina Galleries will maintain locations at The Shops at Wailea, The Shops at Mauna Lani on the Big Island and Newport Beach, California.

The couple founded Lahaina Galleries in 1976.

Jim, from Tennessee, and Nancy, from Arkansas, met in college at Arkansas A&M (now University of Arkansas, Monticello) and married right after graduation. After earning Physical Education degrees, they traveled to New Mexico, Florida and Okinawa.

From 1968 to ’72, Jim served as a Marine aviator.

Later, while teaching in rainy Germany, he watched “Hawaii Five-O” each week and longed for the islands.

This inspired the couple to make some bold, impulsive decisions, including quitting their jobs, selling their possessions and moving to Maui in 1976, both at the age of 32.

Jim said Lahaina was a “drop dead setting” with funky old stores. The space where famous Lahaina restaurant Kimo’s is today was still a vacant lot.

Nancy Killett enjoys spending time with artist Guy Buffet.

When plans to buy an ice cream parlor fell apart, Jim bought into a 1,500-square-foot art gallery selling $400 paintings and puka shell necklaces.

He paid $35,000 for the business and signed a 14-year lease on the space with $750 per month rent.

Beau said, “What I remember, our first location was on Lahainaluna Road where Lahaina Grill is now. In 1976, the hot items to buy were T-shirts, scrimshaw and shells.

“My brother Lee and I would go down and boogie board on the little shore break down where Cheeseburger In Paradise is now while my parents worked. We had a giant tub we’d rinse off in at the gallery, then go next door and sit down in a store – kinda like an ABC Discount – and watch their TV. Lee and I went to Kam III (King Kamehameha III Elementary School) when there wasn’t a fence around it or air conditioners. We loved growing up in Hawaii.”

While building their art business, the couple met a then-unknown painter of seascapes, Robert Lyn Nelson. Jim suggested that Nelson paint New England whaling scenes, in line with Lahaina’s whaling history.

One day, Nelson came in with a painting of a whale underwater. It promptly sold, and his paintings became very popular with buyers.

When Nelson came up with the idea of painting “two worlds” – above and below the water – sales exploded.

Featuring art by Nelson, whimsical Guy Buffet, Dario Campanile and the late sculptor Frederick Hart – creator of “The Three Soldiers” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the “Creation” panels of the National Cathedral – sales eventually grew from about $70,000 per year into the millions.

Artists Ronaldo Macedo, Steve Turnbull and Hisashi Otsuka have also been with Lahaina Galleries for decades.

Lahaina artist Macedo approached Lahaina Galleries in 1994 after he held a one-man show at Lahaina Arts Society.

“I had a nice body of work, and I felt that after four years doing the Banyan Tree and small gift shop galleries, I deserved a spot on Front Street. Lahaina Galleries was the nicest gallery back then – and still is,” he said.

A friend’s mom arranged a meeting with Kim Von Tempsky, marketing director.

“What I had – small, local originals – was exactly what they were looking for. I left four pieces with them at 728 Front Street over the weekend for consultant and client feedback. It was a nervous weekend waiting for an answer,” Macedo recalled.

“When I did hear from them, they said they had good news and bad news. The good news was that they sold one already. The bad news was that they didn’t know if they sold it for the price I was looking for. I started being represented exclusively by them from then on. The rest is history,” he continued.

“From the beginning, they have done everything for me – exposure, marketing, publicity, sales, client relationships. Because of our partnership, I’ve been able to buy our home and raise our family as an artist. They believed in me, and I built on their confidence in me and my work, which has changed a lot since ’94. They have always stood by my slight changes in subject matter and style.”

Jim said he will always remember the artists, his employees and customers, and the whole experience of living here.

The couple lives in Lahaina. Jim is known for cruising around on a scooter.

“Jim and Nancy have always operated their business as a big ohana. They have always been personable. Being that they are Lahaina residents – and myself, too – we see each other all week, seems like. I’ve always been in awe of what Nancy does for her church and for her community. Jim is a busy Lahaina bee on his moped,” said Macedo, who is “painting like crazy” for the final days at the Front Street gallery.

From now until the gallery closes its doors on March 14, special pricing will be offered on an array of artwork.

Beau said, “It’s bittersweet to be closing our flagship location on the West Side, but as Dr. Seuss said best, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’

“You will still see the owner, Jim Killett, cruising around Front Street on his signature moped; however, we’re making him drive a car to get to our Wailea location for the safety of ALL of us!”