Heather Galler must love dogs. And cats, and birds and Rochester, too - but let's focus on dogs for now.
For starters, there are the two Labradoodles (Buddha and Bacon) and the one mixed breed, Ghandi, that share a home in Perinton with Galler, her husband, Michael, and their son Nathan.
And then there are Galler's dog portraits.
Painted in a colorful, folk art style, they have captured the imagination of dog lovers throughout the United States and beyond. Galler's art has sold in all 50 states and 34 countries. And her business keeps growing.
"Every day I pinch myself" she says. "I'm constantly commissioned for paintings. I'm usually working on three at a time."
She's selling prints, too, online and in stores. Beyond that, she has licensed her art for sale on T-shirts, greeting cards, necklaces and other items.
And all of it is easily recognized, for a pet portrait by Galler is like no other pet portrait you've seen. A case in point, her miniature Schnauzer: formed from colors and geometric shapes, pink triangle ears with white dots, a black - white diamond leg, a purple bandit mask - it's a Schnauzer as seen through a kaleidoscope.
In yet, it's still very much that best friend you know and love, with the tilt of it's head, the love - me look in it's eyes. All ever- so schnauzer.
"I want the dog to be recognizable, but I want to glorify the animal," Galler says.
She is speaking from her home/studio just a stones throw from the house she grew up in after moving to Rochester when she was 5.
Now 42, Galler places the beginning of her art career to the time she was Heather Glasgow and a Junior at the Harley School. "I ran for Student President and lost in a close race," she says. "I went home and was crying, devastated. I started created art on the backs of my campaign posters. I never had any interest in art, but I created these collages."
She took the collages to her art teacher, Kelly Fallon, who liked what she saw. Encouraged by Fallon, Galler started doing more art, and she really hasn't stopped since.
Not that she was an over night sensation. After High School, Galler enrolled in The Cleveland Institute of Art but didn't last long. "I didn't want anyone to teach me," she says. "I wanted my own point of view. But I didn't have a point of view."
She dropped out and went backpacking for a year in Europe, earning money by working in a pub and as a Nanny. When she came home, her parents said that enough was enough and she should go into the Military. Which she did, serving 4 years in the US Navy. She returned to Rochester after, working various jobs while in painting in a Art Studio in the Village Gate. (A mural she painted in 1996 is still there today)
"I was getting of a sense of my voice," Galler says. "I was getting closer, but I wasn't quite there."
A position in sales took her to Atlanta, and in 2001 she started a Website Development company that took off. Michael joined the company in 2003 and in 2005, she and Michael married. A year later, Nathan was born.
About then, Galler increasingly nostalgic for Rochester, NY. In 2007 she and her family, then living in Florida, came back to the Forest Hills neighborhood where she grew up.
"I wanted Nathan to go to Powers Farm Market at Thanksgiving," She says. "I wanted him to walk down Park Ave and go to lunch at Jines."
Then the recession hit, and Galler had to shut her company down. All the while she found herself doing more and more art, experimenting with the same style she had used on cityscapes for paintings of animals - not just dogs, but cats and birds, too. She also has a series of paintings devoted to the Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo.
Since in 2008, Galler has painting Full-time. Michael, who is also an artist, is handling the business side of the art.
Galler takes joy in her work and in the fact that art teachers around the Country are having their students turn to her work for inspiration.
"This is probably the most rewarding thing that has happened to me, seeing kids, my son's age, inspired by me," Galler says.
As busy as she is, Galler finds time to wander in Rochester, to visit the places that drew her back home. All in all, she's happy, which she says may be the key to her work. And she remains grateful for not having won that Harley election.
"Thank God that happened," She says. "That was a really a lesson in life. Things happen for a reason, though you don't always know what the reason is."
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