After twelve years in the business of arts sales and consulting, Ruby Blakeney has now established herself as an island of fine art by opening the Ruby Blakeney Gallery at Savage Mill.
Now, visitors to the mill can see traditional works by American weavers, potters and glassblowers side by side with contemporary original artworks, limited prints, sculpture and lithographs by current local, national and international artists.
Blakeney says that her gallery, which opened in September, will bring "another level of artwork" to the mill and "supply the needs of other people who are looking for this type of artwork," she said. "Savage Mill has a diverse group of people coming through its doors. So this just adds to the diversity of the arts offered."
Her volunteer work as vice-chairwoman of the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts,in part, led her to open the gallery.
"(Savage Mill general partner) Jay Weiner serves on the board at Maryland Hall, and during a conversation he said that they always wanted a fine art gallery at the mill. And knowing the level of work and service that I offer, he thought I'd be the right person to come out here and do that," Blakeney said.
Assembling collections for homes and businesses, appraising art and keeping clients apprised of the value of their works and researching current works of art are a few of the responsibilities Blakeneyperforms as a consultant.
Currently, she is researching the valueof a print of Picasso's "Les Bandeliere" for the owner, who wishes to sell it. Based on consultations with art experts and museum curators, she says the price is likely to fall between $50,000 and $150,000.
When Blakeney opened her store Sept. 4, her gallery replaced the Savage Gallery, which had been limited to glass, pottery, weaving andother works by Maryland artists. With the arrival of the new gallery, the Savage Gallery was renamed the ArtCraft Collection and moved across the atrium of the New Weave building.
Since she opened her gallery, Blakeney estimates that at least one artist inquires every dayabout exhibitions. Not all of them are asking to show their own works: "I've had several artists come by and just say, 'Thank you,' " shesaid.
Blakeney credits her success in the arts market to her personality and love of the arts. She stresses the importance of knowing her clients, "From knowing them, you get to know their interests, so when they walk in this door, they never have to go to another gallery. Most are professionals and don't have the time to do the legwork."
The 2,600-square-foot gallery is quite a step for Blakeney, a South Carolina native who started in the art business in 1980 with less experience in art and more in business as manager of consumer relations for a credit bureau in New York City.
After Blakeney and her husband moved to Maryland and they had a daughter, she was ready to forgo a career and assume the role of mother and housewife. Then opportunity appeared.
"A friend, who was the wife of one of my husband's business associates, introduced me to the idea of selling artwork. I could make my own hours," she said. "I like artwork. I did fashion-coordinating in Seattle. And she introduced me because she thought I hada great eye for decorating. She also felt that my business background would be very helpful in running an arts business."
Fortune played a part in starting Blakeney's career by finding her first client.
"I wasn't prepared for it," she said. "It was at a dinner party and people always asked what you do, and I was talking to an attorney and told him I was an arts consultant. He then said that he'd just moved into a new office and wanted me to come in and do his office, so it was merely by accident that I got the first appointment. And it skyrocketed from there. He's still a client today. I've done his offices, his home, his other partners' homes. He's a judge now."
She soonfound that working for one firm limited her as an arts consultant. So she looked into starting an independent consulting service.
"I started out for the first three years representing this major arts company and decided that I would form my own company," she said. "Because if I met with any client, and if they asked for a particular type of artwork, I never wanted to say, 'I don't have it.' So I started to research and find artwork and other companies that were distributors of works of art."
The director for marketing at Savage Mill, EllieButehorn, said that Blakeney brings a more global perspective than the former Savage Gallery and "more of a gallery feeling."
"There'sa lot of space to step back to look at these pieces of art," she said. "At first, all we could see was the empty space in the gallery, and Ruby said, 'You need this space if you want to sell artwork.' "
Despite the gallery's newness, Blakeney is closing her third exhibit,20 abstract works by Jeanne Keck of Crownsville, today. Although shesays that her gallery will aim to have artwork that is priced from less than $200, the Keck exhibit starts at $950 and ends with "Carry Me Along, O Ye Roads," a 12-piece composition measuring 81 inches by 103 inches with a $6,000 price tag.
The previous two exhibits at the gallery included the works of 30 artists of diverse artistic stylesand an African-American exhibit that coincided with the Kunta Kinte festival in Annapolis.
Starting Wednesday, the gallery will show the works of Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, director of the Maryland Film Commission.