Reno Design Now
Tessa Miller was surprised to receive an email from Paul Baker Prindle, gallery director at the University of Nevada, Reno, inviting her to take part in an exhibit on campus. Miller owns The Nest, a boutique on Keystone Avenue. Much of the work she does is creative—merchandising vintage clothing and furniture, consulting with clients on interior designs—but it’s not the kind of work that typically would be shown by an academic institution.
Sheppard Gallery, the main art exhibition space on campus, is more likely to show national artists, recently including names as big as New York photographer Jack Pierson and Canadian ceramic sculptor Brendan Tang. But Baker Prindle, inspired by a simple observation, decided to venture outside the gallery’s usual purview.
“The truth is, most art is made to be lived with on the domestic scale,” he said. He invited Miller—along with interior and landscape designers from LOORR Home, Buds & Blooms, and Sierra Water Gardens—to select pieces from the permanent collection, then design rooms around their preferred artworks. The rooms will be displayed during a weekend pop-up exhibit in the Jot Travis Building galleries. Garret Barmore from UNR’s mining science museum is also expected to contribute some furniture, accouterments and ideas.
Thinking about artwork in a domestic setting is right up Miller’s alley. She’s a University of Santa Clara graduate with degrees in philosophy and Spanish. Upon graduation, she decided, “Silicon Valley was not for me. I moved back here as soon as possible.” Her dad suggested a career path that hadn’t occurred to her, buying a retail store.
“The next thing I know, all of my savings I put down to purchase a used furniture business,” Miller said. “It’s not like I had a huge interest in furniture before that.”
“I ended up loving it,” she said. “It was my calling.” She ran that business, which was in Sparks, for a few years, then started tailoring her inventory to better reflect her own taste.
“I really love vintage—vintage stuff that’s well made,” she said. “It has style.” She opened The Nest in 2009.
When Miller visited the UNR collection, she was immediately drawn to paintings by Craig Sheppard. Unbeknownst to her, Sheppard was a revered Reno painter who chaired UNR’s art department in the 1940s and ’50s and happens to be the Sheppard Gallery’s namesake.
“I’m just pulling out art and saying I want this piece and this piece and that piece,” she said. “He’s got a really cool mid-century, abstract vibe that I really like.”
She selected about 20 pieces and plans to design three different rooms around them, using as many paintings as possible in each room.
“What’s cool about this installation is—it’s how I work anyway,” said Miller. “I just look at whatever catches my eye, and I grab it, and I build stuff around it. The message I wanted to portray is that art is accessible and it’s everywhere, and it doesn’t have to just be in a gallery. I wanted to make the rooms look like a home. My vision was to make a space that looks like it was lived in.” She’s considering real-life touches such as pairs of shoes strewn here and there, kids’ toys on the floor, or maybe a half-eaten bowl of cereal.
“If you go into a gallery it’s like a pristine room,” she said, “but people don’t really live like that.”