Artist adapts to a virtual world — virtually
Mary Welsh and Roger Sandes pose for a photo at Sandes’ 2017 exhibit opening at Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

Artist adapts to a virtual world — virtually

Facing the loss of art buyers on the annual Rock River Artists studio tour, Roger Sandes deals with pandemic by using a new venue to create and sell merchandise with his artwork

WILLIAMSVILLE — Roger Sandes is not taking the pandemic lying down.

One of the founding members of the renowned Rock River Artists and creator of graphic-intensive, often grand-scale works, Sandes says he has found inspiration in the COVID-19 era to get more of his art into the world.

“Many of my sales tend to be face to face,” he said in a news release, “so getting my art out to people in the time of COVID has been particularly difficult.”

As a result, Sandes decided to take on a new technology and offer his work in ways that he never has before - by starting an online merchandise store through, an artist-driven fulfillment platform.

Sandes and his artist wife, Mary Welsh, both now in their 70s, have depended on making art sales by welcoming clients into their home on the Rock River Artists Tour, held every July since 1993 but cancelled this past summer.

In a typical year, the event brings hundreds of visitors, many of whom are eager buyers of fine art. The cancellation of the event this year hurt many of the artists on the tour, making these annual sales impossible.

An online store was the answer to many safety-conscious challenges brought on by the pandemic, but it also helped to free Sandes's art in ways that it had always felt limited.

In an era of “tiny houses” and downsizing, the large scale of Sandes's original artworks have prohibited some sales.

“Most of my paintings are large - starting at a modest 32 inches x 25 inches but heading up to 6 or 8 feet. This store is a chance to offer the more practical and varied applications that people have asked for,” he said.

For more than 40 years, Sandes has produced figurative works on nature-based and art historical themes for private and corporate collections. He was inspired to become an artist because of childhood visits to the Art Institute of Chicago.

After studying comparative literature in college and acting at theater school in New York, where he met and wed Welsh.

They went on to spend two years living, working, and traveling in England and France, as well as the major art centers of Italy, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, and Mexico. Those experiences informed his visual style.

“Mostly what I do is a take on a well-established genre. I'm doing the thing and reflecting on it, so viewers may see what's there, which I hope delights them,” he said. “Or if they've seen a lot of art and life, they may see references reverberating into art history.”

Sandes has exhibited in galleries and museums across the United States and internationally. His work hangs in 32 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., plus Australia, Myanmar, Canada, England, Germany, Mexico, Morocco, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, and the Virgin Islands, as well as in numerous private and corporate collections.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates