Meet Your Merchant: Tahoe artists build on lifetime of experience |

Meet Your Merchant: Tahoe artists build on lifetime of experience

Jenny Luna
Special to the Bonanza
Tom and Mary Garrels see art from start to finish. Both artists paint, frame and display their art in their gallery in the Christmas Tree Village.
Photos courtesy Jenny Luna |


What: Garrels Gallery

Location: 868 Tahoe Blvd. Suite 11

Phone: 775-831-7077

Vivid paintings of polar bears and Arctic foxes hang near stunning photographs of Washoe Valley horses to greet art enthusiasts and curious passersby at Garrels Gallery.

Located in Christmas Tree Village, the art and framing gallery is owned and operated by Tom and Mary Garrels, both experienced artists and framers.

Though their artistic style differs greatly, the vision for their gallery never has. The couple uses the large space for every art process — from creating to framing to displaying.

Large windows and a fireplace and mantle create a cozy feeling in the art gallery.

“The last painting builds the next painting. If you don’t learn from each piece, it’s a wasteful experience.”
Tom Garrels

“We feel like this is our home,” Mary said. “We create here.”

Behind the vibrant canvases and varying frames is each artist’s studio. Mary works on photography and modern-style paintings in one area of the gallery, while Tom paints in a more Art Nouveau style and builds frames in another.

And while their styles may differ, the couple said isn’t uncommon for both to listen to classical music while working on art.


Tom and Mary divide their time between the business side of Garrels and the creative side.

Spring and fall is the couple’s time in the studio, and during the busier seasons, Tom and Mary work more in the gallery.

“We do have to put down our brushes, which as an artist can be difficult,” Mary said. “But it’s heart-warming to us that we can meet our public.”

Much of the Garrels’ reward of creating is found in sharing. The couple enjoys showing their art and interacting with clients, creating relationships with each.

“To do something that we’re passionate about and we love to do, and then have somebody come in and fall in love with it — that’s not something that a lot of people get to experience,” Tom said.

Mary has more than 20 years of experience in galleries, and she and Tom both have a lifetime worth of experience painting.


When clients ask the artists how much time they’ve spent on a piece, Tom and Mary generally respond with “35 years.”

“The last painting builds the next painting,” Tom said. “If you don’t learn from each piece, it’s a wasteful experience.”

Both artists began painting as children and said each work of art has led them to the next.

Mary’s educational background and Tom’s travel experience are main factors that have made them the artists they are today.

Mary’s landscape photography captures color in a unique way. Her painter’s eye leads the photographer to colorful images, a style she refers to as Photo Impressionism.

Because Mary draws inspiration from her physical surroundings, much of her work recreates both the warm and the cool colors around Lake Tahoe.

The artist captures the sunrise’s effect on trees around the lake with vibrant oranges and reds. She calls the pieces “Legends.”

“The trees are true legends,” Mary said. “There are the many generations of the lake. They’ve seen fire and heavy snows and they have lived through beautiful times and hard times, more so than we have.”


Tom’s work is greatly influenced by his travels. Before painting, the man traveled the world building radio towers, and for months at a time, Tom lived in new places.

Over the course of seven years, Tom immersed into cultures as varying as Estonia and Africa, Siberia and the Amazon Jungle.

Traveling, Tom said, changed his outlook on everything, including his art.

“The places and people and art I’ve seen all contributes to the painter inside this,” Tom said, pointing to his heart.

His textured and delicately detailed paintings portray the diversities of the animal kingdom and of the world’s peoples.

“He’s connected to the world and the earth and the people,” his wife said.

The honesty of Tom’s art is what first attracted Mary — the photographer saw Tom paintings before ever meeting the artist himself, and she said she fell in love with her now-husband though his art.

“There was just this light in them,” she recalled of his paintings.

Mary and Tom Garrels can be found at their gallery, Tuesday through Saturday. Works in progress and favored pieces of the artists’ can be found inside.

Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at

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