We had the good fortune of connecting with Gene Sasse and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gene, what do you attribute your success to?
Success is a difficult thing to define. Each of us have our own interpretations. I have been fortunate enough to be good at managing my time and using that time wisely in solving problems. I have been historically very proud of the fact that people tell me I am a pleasure to work with. I usually take that to mean “not difficult”. As the Founder and Curator of an art museum, it’s easy to wound creative people’s egos. I do my best to manage all those that have worked with the museum and especially the artists we have been proud to showcase. Not everyone that recognizes me as a Director of an art museum knows that I have been a Commercial Photographer virtually all of my life. You learn a lot when you have to photograph everything from machinery to flowers, and of course people of all walks of life. I owe a lot to that informal education that has led me to understand how to build a business. Running an art museum is very much a business, a creative business, but it is a business none the less.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My work is multifaceted in that I wear many hats. I have been a commercial photographer for over 45 years. I have produced or helped produce several dozen books on art & gardening. For the Sasse Museum of Art I have produced 30 books or catalogs with one or two more added each month. My photography has always been very technical with only one chance to complete different projects. I photographed roses for marketing and advertising for 30 years with critical color reproduction. I photographed President Jimmy Carter to accompany the introduction he wrote for a book I produced on the woodworker Sam Maloof. I had a total of 10 minutes with the president which included setup, photography and discussions with him. With my background in photography I discovered I brought a different perspective to the exhibits I curate for the museum and with my background in book production I was able to use those skills to produce all the catalogs that are hosted on the website. Even though I’m an introvert I have had to learn how to be more extroverted with my interaction with clients, artists and teaching. I have been a risk taker with starting a photography business at 22 years old and starting an art museum with nothing from nothing. We now have a collection that has been totally donated with over 1,300 pieces of art.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Most of my friends are creative types. I would take them on a grand tour of various artists’ studios. I know from my experience with these talented people my guests will enjoy their uniquely creative environments. For an urban adventure I would take them to explore downtown LA there are many opportunities to photograph and a lot of different activities to see and in some cases, participate in. If they are into gardening, I would introduce them to garden writers, hybridizers, landscape designers that I know and work with. If they would rather explore nature, I would take them to Death Valley, Owens Valley or the Sierras. Lastly if they want something a little more intellectual, I would introduce them to writers and poets I know. We all have many interests and I know some of the visitors I’ve had in the past from out of town were excited to explore the sites, cultural scenes and the culinary opportunities.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
You cannot build a successful art museum without the wonderful people that have joined me in the effort. I’m reluctant to pick out any one particular person for fear that I might leave someone out. There have been many very supportive, kind, generous, and I must say loving contributors. I owe much thanks and gratitude for every one of them. My career started out as a Commercial photographer and now, I not only manage my photography business, but I run a fully functional art museum. Along the way the photography clients became strong and helpful supporters of the museum. I’m proud to say, these two creative occupations coexist quite comfortably.