A gallery of success

Local photographer and gallery owner combine their talents and visions in a new downtown location         

Melissa Pruitt and Justin Nordine

  When Melissa Pruitt and Justin Nordine look back at the past few years their reactions are exactly the same. And that is, that it all happened so fast with the careers that they certainly love, but on a path they never would have envisioned just a short time ago.

            That’s because Pruitt was taking a hobby and combining it with a desire to stay home with her kids after having her second child in 2007. Her hobby was photography. “My office was a storage shed with plywood walls in my backyard,” says Pruitt, “Suddenly, there was one photography job a week, then two, then more and my hobby became a full time job.” And yes, she outgrew her shed.

            Pruitt’s La Tee Da Photography moved into a loft in downtown Grand Junction in 2009 and she has hardly looked back. Not just because there isn’t a long history, but because she really doesn’t have the time in her future. While traditional photography shoots make up a good part of Pruitt’s schedule, she also follows another passion that really pushes her creativity to the limits, and that is in showing and creating her studio/gallery work. Enter the intersecting path of Justine Nordine.

            Nordine’s passion for alternative art had him leaving teaching in 2008 to open a tattoo studio, the Raw Canvas in Grand Junction. Nordine’s passion for art extended beyond tattoos from his time living in Denver, where he lived in a more urban and diverse culture and spent a lot of time in and out of the many art galleries of that culture. From his desire to bring that kind of atmosphere to Grand Junction, Nordine decided to open the Raw Canvas Gallery in a vacant suite upstairs from his studio in 2010.


Photos courtesy La Tee Da Photography

      “My vision for the art gallery was to create the same experience I felt when I went to galleries in Denver,” explains Nordine, “And that was to showcase lesser known artists and to show alternative kinds of works.” The gallery went from having a few artists at its inception to showing upwards or ten to fifteen at time, and was rapidly outgrowing its space.

            It was at the Raw Canvas Gallery that the paths of Pruitt and Nordine intersected, and then merged. Pruitt had applied and was accepted to show her work at a gallery event that Nordine was hosting. Pruitt was hoping to perhaps sell something and Nordine was hoping some folks would actually show up. What occurred was beyond their imagination.

            “We literally had 500-600 come to that show, our wildest dream was maybe 100 would come,” says Nordine, who now compares the impact of the event to his wedding day and birth of his kids. “There we people around the block, in the parking lot, literally everywhere,” said Pruitt, who sold five pieces in that first showing. And with that first show, Nordine knew he had outgrown the Raw Canvas’ space, but he had also found a partner in Pruitt.

            Their new, combined space has just opened its doors at 507 Main Street in downtown Grand Junction with over 2000 square feet housing Nordine’s Raw Canvas Tattoo studio, Pruitt’s La Tee Da Photography Studio and a greatly expanded Raw Canvas Gallery. Pruitt and Nordine’s vision has created a place where, “A younger crowd can hang out and enjoy shows,” according to Pruitt as well as become, “A social destination where people will gather, discuss art, and have a glass of wine in a vibrant, exciting atmosphere,” says Nordine.

            The two have more plans for the gallery as well. The Raw Canvas now has a board of directors to assist with its PR and advertising, show names, themes and event and music planning as the gallery grows in popularity. Both Pruitt and Nordine plan to be active in the community by hosting First Friday events, running workshops, and hosting community events and demonstrations to help introduce as many people as they can to the arts. Plans are also in the works to start a non-profit, the Raw Talent Society, with just one of its goals to host after school programs for kids of all ages.

            And if the last few years of growth are any indication of future success, all of Grand Junction better get in line now to see the show.

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