Visual Arts

Cover Story: Gavel Comes Down Hard on H Gallery, Heidi Powell-Prera and Sandra Bernstein

A little over a year ago, in "The Great Heights Art Heist," we brought you the story of H Gallery and the half-dozen or so artists who claimed to have been defrauded by owner Heidi Powell-Prera and Sandra Bernstein, H Gallery's bookkeeper and Powell-Prera's mother.

Painter Claire Richards and sculptor Jim Adams, among others, claimed that Powell-Prera and Bernstein had sold their works and refused to pay out commissions, even though the women had been paid to exhibit their works in the first place. Adams also claimed to have been suckered into making emergency personal loans to keep the co-op gallery's lights glowing.

After our story ran, attorney Richard Leach approached Richards, Adams and several of the other former H Gallery artists and offered to sue H Gallery and its principals on their behalf. Pro bono, no less. Eventually, former H Gallery artists Adams, Richards, Michael Tolleson, Mi Wang and Ferro-Adams Inc. (Adams's corporation) took Leach up on his offer.

Last June, Leach filed a suit against H Gallery (and its many other DBAs), Powell-Prera and Bernstein. The suit alleged fraud, negligence, deceptive trade practices, breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy, among other nefarious actions.

And on April 23, County Court-at-Law Number Two Judge Theresa Chang brought down the hammer: In a summary judgment, the gallery and its principals were found liable on all causes.

Jim Adams was awarded damages of $17,377 and Adams-Ferro got $10,653. Claire Richards's total came to $12,391. Wang was awarded $18,300, and Tolleson got $13,350.

The defendants are also liable for court costs, and all the money is accruing six percent interest, retroactive to last June.

One of the plaintiffs told Art Attack that the defendants offered very little in the way of a defense. At one point, they hired an attorney, but he withdrew from the case, claiming that the women were not heeding his advice, and, of course, that they had not paid him for his services.

Shocking that Powell-Prera and Bernstein would stiff somebody, isn't it?

On May 19, the defendants filed a motion to set the judgment aside. They claim that they were not served with the notification of the final hearing. A ruling on that motion is pending.

Meanwhile, H Gallery is still in business up there on West 19th.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.