The Candy Store Gallery

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She and her sister . . . decided that they would do something interesting, and they saw this space . . . in Old Folsom that I think it used to be a library, because there were shelf marks still in some areas. And they decided that they would open up a candy store. How hard could that be? . . . This is what I remember her saying . . . that didn't work out the way they wanted it to, or maybe they had a change of mind. So they decided that they would maybe have a gallery.
Gladys Nilsson

Color Polaroid labeled “Candy Store.” Roy De Forest papers, 1916–2015, bulk 1948–2007. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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In the early 1960s, aspiring entrepreneurs Adeliza McHugh and her sister wanted to open up a candy store in California to sell nougats made from their mother's recipe. After the Health Department denied the sisters' application for a permit to sell candy, McHugh came up with a new business plan: a small art gallery.

With no formal training in art and no name for the gallery, the 50-year-old McHugh set out to find prospective artists for her new venture. As Gladys Nilsson recalls, McHugh's invitation to Bob Arneson to show at her new gallery spawned the name:

"She went to him and she said, ‘Well, I've got this gallery in Folsom and I'd love to show your work.’ And he said, ‘Well, yeah, okay.’ You know, he said, ‘Well, what's the name of your gallery?’ And she said—well, they didn't have a name for it, which she automatically said, ‘The Candy Store.’ So, and that—you know, it sort of named itself that way."

The cheekily named Candy Store Gallery (1962–92) became an important place for Northern California artists including Nilsson, Jim Nutt, and Roy De Forest.

At around the same time that the gallery opened, artist Nilsson met Nutt, a fellow art student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Nutt, born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, attended college at the University of Kansas, the University of Pennsylvania, and Washington University in St. Louis before finally settling in Chicago.

Upon graduating, Nilsson and Nutt formed an artist group with three other SAIC graduates, including Karl Wirsum. In 1965, the group coined the term "Hairy Who" while working on a title for their group exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center. The name is in reference to a Chicago classical FM radio channel WFMT's art critic, Harry Bouras. The artist group was an important piece of the Chicago Imagists movement, which melded comics and surrealism to bring together “low” and “high” art forms.

The success of the Hairy Who proved too much of a distraction for the artists. When University of California, Sacramento, offered Nutt a teaching position in 1968, he and Nilsson jumped at the chance to get away from their newfound art world fame and focus on their art. As Nilsson explained: "we were really looking to have California be our—crawl back into a little cocoon and paint." Wirsum joined them there three years later.

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Color photo of Roy De Forest with Glady Nilsson, Candy Store founder Adeliza McHugh, and others. Roy De Forest papers, 1916–2015, bulk 1948–2007. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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McHugh frequently exhibited and sold artworks by faculty members at both Sacramento State and UC Davis. Much of this was due to Irving Marcus, the head of the art department at Sacramento State, who would notify McHugh when there might be some new faculty that she might be interested in showing.

Nilsson remembers that only a few days after she and Nutt arrived in California, McHugh called asking if she would like to show her art at the Candy Store Gallery. McHugh offered to pick up the artist from her home in Sacramento that same day to visit the gallery space. Nilsson recalls the unique vehicle, a distinctly run-down Borgward, and the drive to the Candy Store Gallery:

"We're on the highway, and I'm sitting there and I'm realizing—I look down at the floor, and I'm thinking to myself, holy shit, there's a hole in the floor. I'm watching the road go by. So this Borgward was falling apart. . . . I said, boy . . . I hope I get home [so] I could tell Jim about this adventure. . . . So she drove me back to Sacramento, and it wasn't, like, two hours passed by when she called me up and she said, 'Well, I sold your two watercolors. I hope you have more.'"

Many other artists had the same experience and De Forest proclaimed her "the best dealer on the North American continent." 1

Nilsson, Nutt, and De Forest all exhibited at the Candy Store Gallery. The gallery played a particularly important role in the development of San Francisco Bay Area “Funk” art, a name coined by art historian and former University of California, Berkeley, professor Peter Selz. Selz explained that Funk art “so prevalent in the San Francisco-Bay Area, is largely a matter of attitude. But many of the works also reveal certain similar characteristics of form-or anti-form. In the current spectrum of art, Funk is at the opposite extreme of such manifestations as New York 'primary structures' or the 'Fetish Finish' sculpture which prevails in Southern California.” 2


  1. Quoted in Ellen Schlesinger, "Adeliza and the Candy Store Bunch," Connoisseur (November 1987): 100–105. 

  2. Peter Selz, "Notes on Funk," Funk, exh. cat. (Berkeley: University of California, 1967), 3. 

Images

Exhibition announcement for the Candy Store Gallery, including artists Roy De Forest, Gladys Nilsson, and James (Jim) Nutt. Courtesy of Parker Gallery, Los Angeles.
Announcement for Gladys Nilsson exhibition at the Candy Store Gallery. Courtesy of Parker Gallery, Los Angeles.
Announcement for Roy De Forest exhibition at the Candy Store Gallery. Courtesy of Parker Gallery, Los Angeles.

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McHugh was a champion of the artists she showed. She educated visitors who entered her gallery looking for candy on the art, and oftentimes they left with an artwork in hand. As McHugh put it, "Left alone, [people] buy art that has no sex, no violence, no politics, no nothing. Kool-Aid art. If I'm going to drink, I want wine, and if I'm going to look at art, it's got to have a kick." 1


  1. Schlesinger, 102–04. 

Video

Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt discuss their initial impressions of Adeliza McHugh and the importance of the Candy Store Gallery in the Bay Area art community. Interview for Candy Store Film Project by Laurence Campling, 2012.

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