Greenhut Galleries, one of Portland’s oldest commercial art galleries and a longtime promoter of Maine art, has been sold to a California couple for an undisclosed price, introducing another variable to Portland’s unsettled gallery scene.

Peggy Greenhut Golden announced the sale Monday morning. “It’s bittersweet,” said Golden, 66. “I never had kids, and Greenhut has been my child. She’s 40 years old now. It’s time she left the house.”

The buyers are John Danos and Kelley Lehr of Los Angeles. They visited the gallery in April, and the sale closed last week. Golden will consult with the new owners for three months. Golden and the buyers declined to reveal the sale price.

The sale involves the gallery’s name and client list, as well as the framing equipment. Golden retains ownership of the gallery space at 146 Middle St.

In a phone interview from California, Lehr said she and her husband plan no major changes. That means retaining both the staff and the gallery’s roster of artists. The couple will run the gallery from afar, although Lehr plans to spend considerable time in Portland. The couple eventually will move here, she said.

Lehr, a legal assistant, quit her job to run the gallery. She was in Portland last weekend to meet gallery artists and will return to Maine later this week. Danos works as a lawyer.

“The gallery was exactly the kind of opportunity we were looking for,” said Lehr, 50. “We’re both art lovers – of the arts in general but particularly the visual arts. We were looking for something in our life that would be more fulfilling.”

Greenhut represents several dozen well-known Maine artists, including Sarah Knock, Joel Babb and John Whalley. It employs four people, two full time and two part time.

The sale comes during a time of transition in Portland’s gallery scene. The city has long been the commercial and cultural center of Maine art, but the state’s art hub may be shifting to Rockland and the midcoast. Several high-profile Portland galleries have closed in recent years, and Susan Maasch recently announced she was closing her gallery off Monument Square.

Greenhut is Portland’s most prominent commercial gallery. Golden’s brother, John Greenhut, opened the gallery as a fine-art poster store and frame shop in an Exchange Street basement in the fall of 1977. Golden ran the store for her brother, and specialized in original works on paper by Will Barnet, Joan Miro and others. After a series of moves and a fire that destroyed her inventory, Golden moved the gallery to its current location on Middle Street. She bought the business from her brother in 1990, and focused the gallery on original paintings and sculpture by Maine artists. “A $25 poster wasn’t going to pay the rent as fast as a $1,000 piece of artwork or a $10,000 piece of artwork,” Golden said.

Before buying the business from her brother, Golden took several small-business development workshops. Her first year was a financial disaster. “We did worse than our worst-case projection,” she said. “I was horrified, and thought, ‘What have I done?'”

But Golden and her gallery became major players in Maine art. Bruce Brown, retired curator of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and a longtime Maine art observer, attributed the gallery’s success to Golden’s transition from selling posters to selling original art. In doing so, she helped promote the careers of several Maine painters, he said.

“She was very smart and very committed, and brought the gallery along to make serious contributions to the visual arts in Portland with wonderful artists,” Brown said. “She was a very capable gallery owner, and we will miss her.”

Rob Elowitch, who owns the Portland auction house Barridoff Galleries, credited Golden’s sustained success to her smarts and aesthetics. She has “great business sense and an eye equal to that of the best gallery owners not merely in Maine but anywhere,” Elowitch said. “She leaves the gallery business after many years admired and respected by everyone on both the artists’ and the public’s side.”

One of her artists, part-time Mainer David Driskell, never showed his work in a Maine gallery until Golden persuaded him to show with her a few years ago. Driskell, a painter and printmaker whose work is in museums across the country, was reluctant to commit to a gallery, but wanted to show in Maine, where he has lived part-time for decades. Golden was flexible with him, he said, and didn’t require him to sign a contract. “We have a ladies’ and gentleman’s agreement,” he said. “That is the only condition on which I would work. I don’t like the pressure of having to produce for shows. We’re all sorry she will no longer have that wonderful facility there, because she has been so welcoming to so many artists. She has a been a dealer with a good eye who sells quality art.”

Most artists have signed contracts with the gallery, agreeing to show work exclusively on a regular basis in exchange for a percentage of sales. At this time, all the Greenhut artists are staying with the gallery, Lehr said.

“We are keeping all the artists on the roster, and we are thrilled to inherit them. We are also looking forward to going out and scouting new talent and helping to build their careers just as Peggy did for so many artists,” she said.

Among the initiatives that earned Greenhut notice are the Portland Show, an every-other-year invitational exhibition in which artists make art inspired by the city, as well as a breast cancer survivor’s show that she hosted many years ago. She is most proud that she was able to help boost the careers of Maine artists, she said.

The motive for her sale is to help pay for the care of her 97-year-old mother, who moved to Maine three years ago. Her mother lives in a nursing facility in Falmouth, near Golden’s home in Cumberland Foreside.

“My mom is an unbelievable mother, and is still so in the game. I want these last years to be as good as they possibly can be,” Golden said. “She is my priority.”