Shirley Solomon Dubnick, a retired schoolteacher who became an influential art dealer as founder of Solomon Dubnick Gallery, has died of pneumonia after a lengthy illness, her family said. She died Tuesday, her 81st birthday.
Opened in 1991, Dubnick's gallery served as a career springboard for many local and nationally recognized artists. Besides putting on shows, she actively represented artists to collectors and promoted their works in prominent art publications.
Dubnick cultivated relationships with top-caliber artists, including Alan and Helen Post, Gary Pruner, Tom Rippon, Jian Wang and Ken Waterstreet. She created the first online gallery inventory in Sacramento and kept a representative sample of her artists' works in a giant backroom to share with collectors. She was a founding member of the Second Saturday Art Walk in 1993.
"She established her reputation by establishing her artists," said former assistant D. Oldham Neath, owner of Archival Framing. "She would always encourage them to show in New York."
Like a teacher, Dubnick took a personal interest in the development of young artists. She put on an early show for Robert Bowen, a former framer at Solomon Dubnick Gallery and a struggling artist who went on to earn a national reputation as a painter.
"She took a liking to my painting and was always asking about my career," Bowen said. "She opened my eyes to how galleries work and what they expect. In a way, it was like going to school for me."
Shirley Louise Solomon was born in 1930 in Los Angles, one of two children raised by Clayton and Annette Solomon.
The family moved to Sacramento and earned a place in local lore after her brother, Russ, began peddling records at his father's Broadway drugstore before building the Tower Records empire. Less well-known is his sister's role in setting up an adjacent area in the store to sell books that became Tower Books.
She earned an education degree at UC Berkeley and a master's degree at California State University, Sacramento. She taught school and was a vice principal at Grant and Cordova high schools.
Dubnick retired in 1980 to travel with her husband, Arnold J. Dubnick, who created artistic nature photographs. She got the bug for dealing art while selling his photos at art fairs and enlisted her brother's help to open Tower Gallery, where she sold posters, prints and framing services at a former auto dealership on El Camino Boulevard.
She later opened the Tower Corporate Art Center in a Northrop Avenue building that had once housed MTS Inc., the parent company of Tower Records. With her brother's support, she transformed the large space into a gallery for original, contemporary works of figurative, narrative and representational art.
"We played around with the name. 'Dubnick Solomon' just didn't roll off the tongue," she told The Bee in 2007.
A subsidiary of MTS Inc., Solomon Dubnick Gallery was sold in 1999. The gallery moved to locations in midtown and downtown, where Dubnick served as director until a few years ago.
"I was sort of a backer, but it was her energy for sure that ran the gallery and cultivated the marketplace and cultivated the artists," Russ Solomon said. "She was really respected by her artists and her customers."
Besides her brother, Dubnick is survived by two children. She was predeceased by her husband in 2005 and by her son, Joel, in 2007.