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The Artful Barrons

by Joseph Montebello

Although they claim to have met at a party, Jeannette Montgomery and James Barron actually met in an elevator. And that’s all they are going to admit. But since that fateful encounter in 1984, they have married, had two children, and forged an impressive life as a couple involved in the arts, she as a portrait photographer, he as an art dealer and consultant.

Montgomery-Barron was born and raised in Atlanta and was to the camera born.

“My father was a camera freak,” she explained. “He always had the latest Polaroid and my first camera was a Brownie. From age nine I was always taking pictures. I even tried to set up a slide show of pictures I had taken of my eyes. By the time I was fifteen I had graduated to a 35mm camera.”

Moving to New York, Montgomery-Barron attended the International Center of Photography, but her first big break came through her brother.

“He is a film producer and was co-producing a movie with Kathryn Bigelow and he invited me to do the still photography. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot hanging around the film set. I then started taking portraits, particularly of artists. One subject would suggest my next shoot and I got a lot of commissions.”

Since 1981 when she began taking pictures, Montgomery-Barron has been praised for her extraordinary photographs of some of the century’s most important figures, from art dealers Leo Castelli and Mary Boone to photographers Cindy Sherman, Mary Ellen Mark and Robert Mapplethorpe, to painters David Salle, Eric Fischl, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to Willem Dafoe and Andy Warhol.

She incorporated these images and many more in her book Scene, which is a testament to her talent and a document of the ‘80s New York art scene.

James Barron grew up outside of Chicago and at various stages wanted to be a photographer, architect and art historian.

“When I was in college at Brown University, I got a grant to curate a show on the history of Polaroid photography, emphasizing its importance as an artist medium.”

Barron went on to work for the Knoedler Gallery, which represented the estates of Alexander Calder, Adolph Gottlieb and David Smith. Following that stint he went to Geneva, Switzerland and worked for Jan Krugier, who represented a quarter of the Picasso estate, handling works by Whistler, Kandinsky, Degas, and Matisse. He returned to New York in 1984 and set up his own business as a private art dealer and consultant.

The Barrons then did what so many of us dream of doing – they moved to Italy.

“We were at a dinner party one night,” Barron recalled, “and one of the guests reminisced about a year spent in Rome. The next day I had my kids enrolled in a school there and we were off the Rome for a year –and stayed for eleven.”

Upon their reentry, the Barrons, who had been weekenders for many years, decided to make Kent their full-time residence. And James Barron Art was opened, specializing in modern and contemporary American and European works.

“Kent has always been the strongest of the art groups in Connecticut,” said Barron. “And I am delighted to be a part of it. I also love being able to live here as well. I am always working on projects, such as creating views or new gardens, highlighting what this incredible land offers. I have a strong interest in the environment and preservation.”

Since they are both involved in the arts, do the Barrons ever work together?

“I respect Jeannette’s eye and her intelligence. It’s rare that we disagree on aesthetic issues. We collaborated on a series of articles for Casa Vogue in which she did the photographs and I wrote the essays.” Barron also wrote the introduction for My Mother’s Clothes, a book Montgomery-Barron created in honor of her mother.

The Barrons will be off to Rome again in October when Montgomery-Barron has a new show opening.